As the first beams from the rising dawn lit the slopes of the craggy mountainside, forming gentle shadows behind the forest of small rocks that littered the surface, a silence descended like a velvet blanket. The crisp, chill morning air blew the wispy white hairs of an old man, his burgundy cloak fluttering against his long tunic as he surveyed the landscape. Beside him, something stirred; the gloriously golden coat of a Shiba Inu gleamed in the dawn sun as she turned to look at her grey companion, a Wolf sitting by her side. His rugged sheen stood in stark contrast, weather beaten but alive with strength and honour. The two canine companions looked at each other for a moment before a flash of red on the horizon caught their attention. Turning, they saw something small approaching them from a distance, some kind of winged creature flying quickly toward them. As it approached, they began to see distinct features – at first, willowy wide wings that rowed strongly against the air currents, propelling a bright red Phoenix ever closer; then a magnificent crimson crest, rising regally from a head where bright golden eyes burned as if ablaze. Within a minute they found themselves face to face, the red Phoenix cruising to a gentle stop with wings stretched, before coming to a halt with golden talons stretched to their full length as he landed.
“You, my friend, are late.” The old man leaned on his staff, his furrowed brows hinting at his irritation.
“I am sorry, Master. That old nightmare … the one I told you about, it came again last night. I could not sleep”.
The old man stretched out his hand, running his palm across the golden crest, his eyes closed in concentration. After a brief moment, he breathed a long sigh and looked at the Phoenix, his eyes filled with compassion. “I understand, my old friend. We will speak of this again.” He turned to address the two canine companions.
“Today, as you all know, is the fruition of many long months of preparation. Throughout your training you have come to understand your strengths and weaknesses, but today is the day you must face yourself. You must face the many obstacles of this ancient mountain alone, without the companionship of each other; to reach the summit will be a test of everything you have learned, but most of all, it will be a test of your ability to overcome the limits of your own minds. To break the barriers of consciousness. To look deep within; to find your Wilder Spirit. Only the strongest of you will reach the summit first.”
A sudden gust of wind billowed across the mountainside. Fur grazed against fur, feather against feather. The old man raised his staff. Muscle tensed. Tendon tightened.
In a maelstrom of gold, grey and crimson, the three animal companions exploded into motion. The Wolf leapt across the terrain with ease, his Shiba companion bounding quickly behind him. Above them soared the Phoenix, its powerful wings pushing it ever onwards. Over the razor-sharp rocks of a ravine, they flew. Across the wide and barren landscape of the upper mountain they sped. As the air grew thinner the higher up the mountain they progressed, the Phoenix began to struggle to keep up. With his wings showing the visible signs of stress, he began to lag behind. The Shiba and Wolf continued to race, their powerful muscles carrying them further and further up the mountain; but soon the Shiba also began to tire. Panting with exertion, she slowed and fell behind the Wolf, despite her best efforts.
After some time, the Wolf found himself alone at the front of the pack. As he reached the summit, he stopped and turned to check on his companions, but he found himself stunned to silence by the awe of the visage laid before him; the sun, now high in the late morning sky, shone across a vast and beautiful expanse of mountain and valley. A small stream, slipping and sliding down the face of the mountain, expanded into a wide and fast flowing river that meandered through the valley, bringing life to the forest below. Further in the distance, the tall and shimmering spires of Wiami gleamed under the sun, a beaming vision of plasteel and glass on the edge of the great sea.
As he watched, the Shiba came panting into view, followed shortly by a visibly shaken Phoenix. Together they sat and watched the wonderous vision before them. Shortly before noon, the old man appeared, walking calmly up the slope, supported by his staff.
“Congratulations, Wolf. You have proven yourself worthy of the Wilder Spirit.” He paused, and looked at the Shiba and the Phoenix. “Shiba and Phoenix”, he began. They looked down, forlorn and embarrassed, preparing themselves for the worst. “Shiba and Phoenix”, he continued, “I also congratulate you. I am very proud of you both.” Surprised, they glanced at each other.
“But Master, we did not win.”
“You were not the first to reach the summit, that is true. But coming first is not the only principle of the Wilder Spirit. To show strength and tenacity in the face of adversity, to battle against your own physical and mental limitations, to overcome all the challenges that are thrown against you; that is what the Wilder Spirit represents. And all of you have shown today that you embody that principle with every ounce of your being”.
As the old man and his animal companions descended the mountain, the noon sun at their backs and a warm breeze greeting their departure, silence once again descended like a velvet blanket. The Wilder World metaverse had found three new Wilder Spirits that day.