Silverheels found herself wrapped up in an embrace that she didn't even remember diving into. The strong arms of her adoptive father held her close as she finally let go and sobbed out her frustration into the older wolf's favorite flannel shirt. It even smelled exactly like she remembered it last.
Cheryl started suddenly, breaking away from the embrace to her father's bemused smile. This…was wrong. As a coyote, like all other canines, her adoptive parents included, she had an amazingly sensitive sense of smell. Indeed, in Zootopia, scent testimony was often used in legal proceedings involving canids. And while every mammal had their own unique scent much like a paw print or other identifying feature, it did have slight variations due to health, diet, exertion, level of excitement or any one of a hundred other factors. So yes, while each animal had their own signature odor, it had a range of variance.
Except this wolf. Her father smelled exactly the same as the last time she saw him. Exactly.
"Who….what…are you?" she asked the smiling figure of her father as a voice she recognized piped up from behind. "And they call Me a trickster? This is bordering on cruelty," her mother said as she whirled around to face her.
In the flickering light from the battered park lights Cheryl Silverheels stood between an apparition of her mother dressed in her normal black pullover top and jeans and her father in his usual garb of denim and flannels.
"You called, We answered. We felt that it might be a bit easier to take some of what you are about to hear if it came from a familiar face". Her father stood there, the body language somewhat off as well. As though the mannerisms of a male wolf were unfamiliar. The doppelganger stood there, paws clasped before him in what Silverheels could only describe as a strangely feminine gesture.
The double of her mother started walking around her, paws clasped behind her own back, speaking slowly in a very familiar cadence, "Actually, My Partner thought that. I know you're made of sterner stuff. So while we wear these forms for your convenience, you also realized that surface has exactly diddly to do with substance. Or did you forget that lesson I taught you? Ah, I see the understanding coming into your eyes…" the figure said as it passed behind the still form of her father, shimmering slightly as it shifted into….
"Oldman!" Silverheels trembled as she recognized the familiar grizzled muzzle of the eldest member of the Coyote Nation. The memories of a forgotten conversation on the back porch at home came tumbling back, and her knees shook.
"Hi kiddo. Glad to see that you've decided to wake up."
"Kevalins!" she squeaked as the old coyote stepped to one side, still facing his former student.
"Well, not quite. There are a lot of names for what we are" said the older male canine.
"Different aspects have different names in different cultures", said the imposter in her father's skin. "It's like how you speak to you friends versus your employer or a person in a place of authority over you" it said softly. "Even though the idea of authority doesn't fit here either."
"Some of My Names are Trickster, yes. Also Loki, Lucifer, Odin, and so many others that you have never heard before. Depends on my mood," Oldman said with a grin as he removed the wide brimmed black hat, dusting it off with one paw as he spoke, those ancient amber eyes still fixed on her own.
"My Names among all the worlds include Elthia, Kwan Yin, Hestia, Isis, and billions upon billions more appellations. Here amongst your nation I am known as The Lady", her father said has his countenance shimmered softly into something else. It was an unusual creature. It had curves suggesting it was a female mammal, but unlike any she had ever seen. No muzzle to speak of, and a face that was bare, deeply tanned and smiling. The teeth were strange. Neat and even. Neither a predator nor prey animal apparently. A long mane of dark fur was pulled back from the top of its head and secured with a golden clip on one side. The eyes were grey and deep. It…She…was a gorgeous creature despite the odd appearance.
She raised one paw, palm up and offered to the young female canine. "You called with the deepest part of your soul. We answered," She said as Cher stepped forward and took the offered paw. It was strange. Five long fingers with the smallest suggestion of claws at the tips. It, like the face of the ….whatever this really was….was bare as well. The hairless tanned arm going up into a classic gown of blue and silver held with a golden girdle. "What would you have of us?" the figure asked carefully.
"As if We didn't already know", her partner snarked as it walked around the edge of the clearing, gaining a rolling eye glance and look of long-suffering forbearance from the female spirit.
Cher took the offered paw and spoke quickly, her nervousness clearly apparent, "Carl Latrans has loosed a destructive force upon our society. Given time it will destroy us all. I cannot stop him as I am now. Can you show me the way that I can stop and save my friends?"
The female entity stood silent as the one Cheryl recognized as her mentor simply whistled softly. "Gee, not asking for much are ya? Just trying to save the world, eh?"
The Lady spoke softly, "Mayhap a smaller boon could be granted? We can show you the way to restore your beloved friends, but like all knowledge, there is a price."
"I'll pay it, whatever it is! Silverheels blurted as the elder coyote simply grinned. "Told you she was still a bit rash", he said with a nod to his companion. "Kid, you really have no idea what it is that you ask. There is no way to describe or teach you what you need to know. You must…," the creature paused as it groped for a word in the clunky language of mortality. "….Become. Yes, that's it. You must Become," he finished, lifting an eyebrow as the young female canine stood puzzled. "But it does help if you get a little context first," he said gesturing with a paw.
There was a feeling of dislocation, of movement that made Silverheels head swim and drove her to her knees. The nausea suddenly overwhelming as she heaved up the remainder of her last meal. As the acid taste filled her mouth and horrid scent filled her nose Oldman walked over to her. "Don't worry kiddo. Everyone pukes the first time. It's a mortal thing apparently. Can't handle the temporal shift on a full stomach". A touch on her head relieved or more likely suppressed the symptoms, and the offered paw of her mentor helped her back to her feet.
It was daylight, on a windswept plain of grasses as far as the eye could see. The air dry and chill under a cloudless blue sky. The far north maybe? Far up into the Albertan Shield? In the distance she could pick out a line of blues and whites at the horizon. There was a sharp glitter to it, as if it were made of crystal? Silverheels was puzzled. "Where are we?"
Oldman stood next to her, silent, facing northward as the young coyote was flanked by the other female entity. "The beginning of your world", she whispered.
Oldman grinned a knowing grin and elaborated. "It's not so much a where as a when. We're only about 40 miles from Black Butte. But at this point….it's buried under about a kilometer of ice."
Cheryl gulped, her ears laying back on her head. She knew enough of the hard sciences to know that this was the ice ages. "Why? Why so far back?"
"Just watch. See….right on time. See the bipeds coming around the hummock over there?" the old male said. "Don't worry, they can't see us."
She watched as the figures took up positions along a draw, waving and gesturing with their short spears as they did so. She couldn't pick out the words, but they seemed somewhat familiar. Like…root words? The meanings of her vocabulary in the Coyote language? But they weren't coyotes at all. They were too tall, and seemed to be more like the female spirit that stood at her right. Flat faced. The clothing did not appear to be of any plant fabric she had ever seen before being a uniform tan color. She could see there were decorations, but not too much in the way of detail at this distance.
"They…they're my people? But…no tails? No muzzles?"
"Give the girl a gold star. They are your people, but not your species. Not yet. But this is where it begins."
As Silverheels watching transfixed, she heard the pounding of hooves coming around that same bend the strangers had previously cleared. Equines! She thought, but was amazed when she saw that they were all naked and running on all fours! She could smell the fear on them as they were running down the draw surrounded by the bipeds. A running group of them was giving chase, yipping and yelling, driving them onward.
"It's a blind draw", the female said quietly. "No way out", even as the spears were thrown down into the targets below. The strange two-legged animals disappeared over the edges of the hill, in pursuit of their prey below. Cheryl could hear the screaming of the horses as the weapons found their marks, thankful that she could not see the carnage that she knew was happening and she fell to her knees, sobbing.
"Why? Why bring me here for this?" she asked, appalled by the apparently needless killing.
"The Clovis people were a hunter-gathering people. They vanished, leaving only their tools, by which your world gave them names. They were mammals, but not like you. In this particular reality, the horse is a food source." She said. "I wear their form in memory of what they were. What they could have been. And in some realities, what they are".
Primates. She understood now. They all went extinct about the same time, for reasons that were unclear even today. Silverheels felt a chill run down the fur over her spine. She had a sinking suspicion that she was about to find out.
The female knelt next to her and placed that strange paw over her face, "Close your eyes". Even as she did so, there was a great flash that seemed to be everywhere, even shining through the paw over her muzzle. She thought she could see the bones clearly through the flesh it was so unbearably bright.
The pair helped the confused young coyote back to her feet. "It begins," She said, gesturing to the rising fireball to the northeast.
Cher stood blinking as Oldman spoke. "Comet strike. Hit the ice sheets up near the Huron border in your time. Ever wonder why the Great Lakes region has that mitten-shaped profile? Now you know," He said smugly. "It dug out a nice long gouge in the ice and earth beneath, throwing millions of tons of ejecta in to the air. But this is just the first part," he said as he clapped a paw over her eyes once more. "This is where it gets fun!"
The blinding light was back once more, seeming to arc from the same direction in the northeast to overhead to the southwest, followed by a massive sonic boom that nearly knocked her flat on the ground. Only the arms of her compatriots kept her on her feet.
Cher opened her eyes once more, seeing the onrushing dark cloud from the first impact coming their way. "In your world there were two impacts. In other worlds, only the one. This destroyed most of the megafauna and all the primates in this world due to changes in climate and food supply," She said softly.
”And we need to move this right along, because that ejecta cloud IS closing," Oldman chirped. "We saw the death of all sentient forms on this world from this event. Most often we let evolution continue the dance and rebuild from the ashes. It's happened here before. But this time…Someone wasn't quite ready to let go of Her toys."
If a deity could look embarrassed, this one did. She smiled and said, "There was too much potential to be had in these minds, these souls that had risen from this small beautiful world. They demanded more of this existence, and so I gave them another option. Change. The world would no longer be able to support these primates, so I gave that awareness to those who could carry the fire that is mind forward. To build a new world".
Cher nodded. After all, the stories of her people did have a kernel of truth at the core. "Coyote to be Her priest" she whispered.
"This is so".
"But why two comets?"
Oldman shrugged. "Gas giants do that sort of thing. The one you named Jupiter shredded most of the mass off the original snowball. If not….well, there would have been as great a reset in the chain of life as the mass extinction of the dinosaurs. And they are kinda the reason that your world exists in the first place."
"How so?" Silverheels asked.
The Lady smiled. "A sauropod tripped".
"Tripped?" she asked astonished.
Oldman laughed deeply. "Yeah. What you named an Apatosaurus tripped and fell about, oh, one hundred and fifty-two million years ago. The change in the planet's inertial motion over that length of time was enough to nudge the Earth enough to take the two hits rather than the one in the world where these primates; humans, end up surviving."
"In my world…Zootopia. In their world?"
"Not. And most days…well…they have challenges. They think they are the only sapient creatures on their planet."
"But why would you choose this for us?"
"Ah? So that's it. Listen closely….we're not running the show. To a certain extent, you ARE. There is randomness and chance, of course. But there are limits based on the physical laws of this universe. Only so many things that CAN happen, after all. We're aspects of reality that you CAN wrap your mind around. To see Us, as what we truly are, incarnations of forces and ideas within the Fabric itself….well, it wouldn't be a good thing for you. So, we're more or less guides. A primer for early sentient species. Your kind can barely comprehend the idea of a four-dimensional universe not to mention the eleven dimensions that actually are," the old coyote advised Silverheels.
"Don't be so hard on the child. She has come very far" his companion reproached the elder canine.
"Pfft. She didn't get this far by me coddling her". Oldman turned to the young female coyote and said, "It's time to go anyways. We need to see the Tapestry", and they shifted to the no-place that was the true framework of the universe, just beating the arriving firestorm that swept over the plains.
A sudden, gut wrenching twist and Cher spun crazily in the void above the gleaming fabric, trying to get her bearings.
"Focus", came the calm feminine voice. "It is your will in action here that has effect. Choose a frame of reference and that will be your horizon".
That surprised her. She had never had any difficulty coming to the Tapestry. Apparently she had done all that unconsciously before. This time, as a "guest", she had not thought to impose a sense of order on her surroundings. This…might take a moment. She focused on one thread; her own and tried to picture it as an actual piece of spun cotton. It helped greatly. Cher still spun, but slowed as she was able to see one aspect of the fabric of creation. She now forced herself to look at it as an actual fabric, a warp and weft. And so, her mind set it down as a tapestry of multicolored threads at her feet. A surface she could walk on as she settled to the "ground". A plane of reference for a plains creature.
"Well done. Your experience here has served you well. Now….note how your life plays into this new view of reality," spoke the female entity.
Cher looked at her feet and saw that the thread of her life had shifted, altering the pattern. Rather than one of the long running threads of the warp made of other mammal lives, she was seeing that her life had been bent…..and was now starting to join with several other lives…becoming the weft holding all of the Tapestry together.
"Oh…my!" Cher whispered, understanding the impact of the image at her feet.
"Oh, yes. You are starting to see things as they truly are. And it's changing you. Your impact on the fabric of their lives is getting quite involved. It may be even more so…in time," She said.
"She means that you are going to be offered something big, kiddo. Something that will give you some amazing chops. But, yeah, it comes with a price. A big one. But first…..let's see what stakes we're really playing for here". Oldman gestured, sweeping out with his right paw and the world blurred around them, coming to the dark line that was Carl Latrans.
"See that? Pointing to the gleaming end of the thread that now was ebony beneath their feet. "He wasn't always like this. He was hurt. Pretty horribly over time. And not just in this lifetime too!," gesturing back along the thread to where it seemed to come from nothing. In the distance, Cheryl could see that it passed on the reverse side of fabric, buried deep in another realm. The land of the dead.
"Give me you paw", Oldman said. "I'll damp your perceptions, because where we're going, no mortal can withstand it". The Lady nodded in agreement as Cher took her mentor's paw in her own. She gritted her teeth as once again, the scene shifted.
The light. SO BRIGHT! It was everywhere. Like she was made of it. So…pure…and perfect. And peaceful. She wanted to let go and just be a part of it.
"Not yet, kiddo," came the voice. We've got a lot to see here. Come."
She felt herself drawn along in that moment of perfect clarity and peace. The smooth progression started to become a turbulent bump. Irregular and light at first, but getting more erractic and severe as they continued. The luminous aether around them becoming a darker, sullen glow..tinged with reds and black. Her spirit quailed at the thought of where they were going.
"No," came the firm female voice. "There is no hell as you may think of. We do not punish Our Children like that. We do however, correct them, but with love and wisdom over many lifetimes. This….abomination…is the doing of many minds. Choosing to create this for themselves".
"So…this is a hell, but of mortal choice? One that mammals choose for themselves," Silverheels wondered.
"Well said. The life that was Latrans created doubt, pain, and instability while he lived. And as such, he sowed seeds of misery that were deeply planted in the psyche of all mammals who survived his time. They all came to believe that there needed to be such a place, and that they all were deserving of such a fate. The more that you tried to combat it…the more ingrained the idea became in the collective unconscious of sentient mammal-kind. You were, to use a metaphor, trying to put out a fire with gasoline," the old coyote finished.
"He created it. But I made it worse?"
"Yes. You put a seal on his work", the Lady confirmed.
"So here we come to the kicker. And it's a doozy kiddo. We can't undo the acts of free will. But we can give you the tools to act. And now that you've woken up, you can understand them. But….."
"I don't have the fine control to use them well. I'm like a squirrel on espresso doing brain surgery," Cher finished.
The Lady smiled, "An interesting way of putting it, but essentially correct."
"So. We can also give you the knowledge you'll need to set things right. But it will change you. You'll see things more deeply than any other mortal. You'll be able to see the land of the living and the land of the dead and place your hand upon them and do great works. It'll set you apart forever. Your spirit will be bound to this task for as long as the stars burn and this world exists. You will find peace, but only temporarily in the many lives you will serve as guardian here in Our stead. Like I said, kiddo, massive chops…but a hella price. Ain't life a bitch?" Oldman teased.
So, 'coyote to be Her priest' is a bit more than what the myth implied?
"Yeppers. And don't forget, as We're both the two faces of reality, you are My hand in the mortal realm as well. It's a lot to take in, isn't it?"
Cheryl Silverheels gulped and nodded as she stared into the red and ragged abyss that the world would become if she failed to act. All those lives, driven to darkness and suffering by the whispers of one voice. But what they had said troubled her. If she acted, she failed. If she did not act…the outcome was the same? There was something missing, and she needed to think.
"Can….can I have some time for this?" Silverheels asked the pair of spirits standing before her.
A simultaneous nod…and she found herself back in the darkness of the park in Zootopia. A feminine voice echoing in her ear, "Tarry not. The time of balance is past and the world slides to darkness. Choose quickly. Or embrace the shadow."
Yeah, she thought to herself. No pressure.