This is an old phrase suggesting the horrors of being broke, hungry, and generally late on all your bills. I don't know where it originated from. At one point, I would have considered this a tragic state of affairs. At this point, I let the wolf inside the house, let it run around a bit, play with the cats and give it a bowl of kibble.

In the beginning there was quite a lot of nothing. Within the nothing, at the very center, was a little spot of existence.

In that little bit of reality, there was a door.

It wasn't a particularly impressive door, as far as doors go. It was set in a plain wooden frame with a plain brass knob.

For ages and ages, the door just sat, unused and alone in a world surrounded by nothing.

* * * *

He didn't know where he came from.

Sometimes he thought he must have come through the door, and then forgot. Other times he thought he had come from the nothing. Still, other times he thought that maybe he had always there and just couldn't remember.

The first thing he did upon waking was open the door. He looked at the world still forming on the other side and smiled. He looked down on the spot where he'd woken. There was long stick there, and a small hide shield. He picked them up.

And so he became the guardian.

He closed the door and waited in the worldlet. Every so often, he'd open the door again, just to see how things were coming along.

The wolf came later.

The guardian had been looking though the door at the time, so he missed seeing how the wolf had come to be.

"What?" said the wolf. "What's in there?"

Surprised, the guardian turned. The wolf was large, its back about level with the guardian's waist. Its thick fur was nearly as black as the nothing around them. The wolf's eyes shone red in the dark.

"I'm not really sure," said the guardian. "It's nice, though."

Pointed ears perked forward. "Can I have a look?"

"Sure." The guardian opened the door a little wider and the wolf did look.

"Wow."

"I know, right?"

"That's fantastic."

"Yep."

"Let's go inside."

The wolf moved. The guardian moved faster. The door was closed.

"Aww, come on. I won't stay long. I just wanna look around."

The guardian shook his head.

"No. We'd just mess it up. We're made of different stuff as they are."

The wolf whined and pawed at the ground that wasn't really there. "But I wanna see!"

"Nope. Sorry."

The wolf moved to the other side of the worldlet, grumbling to himself.

From then on, whenever the guardian opened the door to look, the wolf would ask if he too could see. The guardian would let him, only for the wolf to try darting into the new world.

"Will you cut that out?" said the guardian on the fourth time. "You're going to get hurt."

"Will not," said the wolf. "And I'd stop if you just let me in."

The next time he tried, the door slammed shut on his nose. The wolf let out a sharp whine and ran to the other side of the worldlet.

"What did I tell you?" said the guardian without sympathy. This was getting old. Already he missed the brief period of time when there was nothing but him and the door.

"You did that on purpose!"

"Don't be such a baby."

The wolf gave off a low growl. Hackles raised. "You can't keep me out forever," he snarled. "I'll get in eventually."

The guardian smiled and twirled the stick in his hands. "I'd like to see you try."

And so it started. The wolf constantly tried to get through the door, partly because he did want to get to the other side, but mostly because the guardian had dared him.

Once, in a fit of rage, the wolf attacked the guardian directly. It was the first time the guardian even had to use the shield. It was the first time the wolf had ever been hit with the stick.

"That hurt!" he snarled.

The guardian rolled up his sleeve and showed off the bite marks there. "So did this!"

"Good!"

The wolf turned away and went to lick his wounds on his side of reality. While he did, he glanced around at the nothing surrounding them. Had he really come from that? he wondered. If so, could more things come from it?

Tentatively, he stuck the tip of his nose out into the nothing. It hurt. He quickly drew it back and wiped the bit of nothing on the ground. He wished he had a cloth of some sort to wipe it off, but there was no way he was going to ask his roommate for help.

With a feeling in his head like a rubber band stretching, nearly snapping, then coming close once more, the little scrap of nothing turned into a single, small thread.

He tried very hard to keep his tail still. He began to plot.

* * * *

The guardian was having a hard time of it.

In the long while since the wolf had bitten him, his arm had only gotten worse. It was swollen up and red. There were strange colored streaks going down from the bite marks, and he was finding it very hard to stay up.

He looked over at the wolf, who'd managed to burrow himself a portion of reality into the nothing.

Well, good. More room. Now they wouldn't have to look at each other all the time.

He leaned back against the door and allowed himself to slide to the floor. Just for a moment, he told himself. Just a little breather. He'd be up in second.

He set the shield down beside him, facing where the wolf was. He lay the stick across his lap and cradled his injured arm. For the first time in his existence, he slept.

* * * *

The wolf looked at his creations and beat his tail. The shades looked back at him, all their mouths were hanging open in canine grins.

There were four of them in all, varying in sizes and shapes. Though the color of their pelts was all the same shade of black as his own, their eyes each burned with their own colors. It had taken him forever to get them all done, and even then he knew they weren't complete. Not like he was, not even like the guardian was.

The guardian.

He let his tongue loll out of the side of his mouth and glanced back at the door.

"Sleeping on the job, huh? Ha! Come on, guys. Let's go."

The guardian woke up to the sound of a dozen wolves growling at him. The original stood before his pack. He was the only one who looked at all friendly.

"Heya. Mind moving out of the way? My friends and I need to get through."

The shades behind him snickered, their teeth still bared.

The guardian looked up at them blearily. He struggled to his feet, leaning on the stick for support.

"S'ry," he mumbled. "Can't." He wavered on his feet.

One of the shades, a large one with yellow eyes, darted forward.

"Wait," said the original.

It was too late. The yellow eyed shade grabbed the guardian by the injured arm and dragged him aside. He cried out in pain, then went silent.

Yellow Eyes came back to the pack, looking satisfied with himself.

"You didn't have to do that," said the original.

Yellow Eyes flicked an ear back. Don't worry, he said. He'll be fine. Let's go.

One by one, the shades entered the world.

"Remember, guys," he said. "Just for a little bit, okay? We all meet back in a bit, okay?"

None of them answered. Upon entering the world, the shades dispersed, each going off to enjoy themselves alone.

Ah well, he thought. How much trouble can they get themselves into?

Ignoring the unfamiliar gnawing in his belly, the wolf began his long awaited tour of the world. He traveled the countrysides. He traveled the woods. He traveled the mountains, and traveled the towns. The people didn't see him. He could look wherever he pleased, do whatever he wanted.

And so the wolf became Curiosity.

After days and days of looking and prodding and poking and sniffing, the wolf who was curiosity learned two things:

1. He would need a lot more time before he'd ever actually be satisfied with this world.
and,
2. He was worried about the guardian.

Well, he thought. It was fun while it lasted. Time to go home.

He found the yellow eyed shade in the middle of a war zone, surrounded by people fighting. All around them, men were shouting and screaming and hacking away at each other. Then, as if on some cue he hadn't caught, they parted. He took advantage of the lull to get to Yellow Eyes.

"Come on," he said. "Let's go back now."

No,
said Yellow Eyes. I like it here.

A hail of enemy arrows came down, killing several people nearby. The wolves were unharmed: the arrows simply passed through.

The wolf who was Curiosity winced. "Why would you want to stick around here?

I started this war. I want to see who will win.

Yellow Eyes threw back his head and howled. The men on both sides shouted along.

The wolf left as fast as he could before the next charge.

He found the blue eyed shade in a small village, standing by the well.

"Come on," said the wolf. "Yellow Eyes has gone insane. We need to get back-"

Hang on.

"What are you-"

Shh.

The wolf who was Curiosity followed Blue Eyes' gaze. A girl walking with her mother began to cough. The mother began to cough. A man passing by, too, began to cough.

"That. . . that's you doing that, isn't it?"

Blue Eyes nodded, not taking his eyes off the girl. They drank from the well this morning. I'm just speeding things along.

"You're just like him!" wailed the wolf.

Blue Eyes cocked his head to the side.

Is that bad?

The wolf ran away, hoping Green Eyes would be more sensible.

He found Green eyes in the middle of a field, lying down in the sun. She was surrounded by dead cattle. All around her, the grasses were shriveled and brown.

"Green Eyes?" he said, unable to hide the worry in his voice. "Are you okay?"

She raised her head and let her jaw hang loose in a grin. Her maw was covered in blood. Never better, she said. Like what I've done with the plants?

There came a moaning sound off to the side. The wolf who was Curiosity went over to look.

It was a boy. His arms and legs were as thin as the guardian's stick, but his belly was swollen and ugly.

"Green Eyes, did you-"

Maaaaaybe.

Before he could say anything, Grey Eyes appeared.

"Oh Grey Eyes! I'm so glad to see you!"

Grey Eyes nodded his head in acknowledgment. I saw you before. You were speaking with Yellow Eyes. I did not want to interfere.

"Then you know how absolutely insane he is-"

Grey Eyes moved over to where the boy lie. He gently touched his nose to the child's forehead. With a small gasp, the boy ceased twitching and lay still.

"You're one of them."

Grey Eyes looked on with a steady gaze.

No. I am cleaning up after them.

"You have to come back. You have to help me-"

I cannot. So long as they're here, I must mend the damage as best I can.

"But Grey Eyes-"

Too late. Grey Eyes was gone as quickly as he'd appeared.

"Green Eyes, why did you do that?"

Green Eyes ignored him. She had fallen asleep.

Thoroughly disgusted with both himself and the world at large, the wolf who was Curiosity went home.

* * * *

The guardian was waiting for him when he got back.

"So," he said sweetly. "How did it go?"

"You know damn well how it went!"

True. He'd been watching the whole thing.

"You have to stop them," said the wolf.

"Me? They're you're friends. What's wrong, can't get a handle on them?"

"Please!" the wolf whined. "You have to help me."

The guardian sniffed. "Me? I can't do anything. Look at me. I'm sick. I'm tired. My arm hurts. And you know what? I kinda like this place when you're not around. It's all peaceful."

"Look out the door! Look at what they're doing to the world."

Against his better judgment, the guardian did. The hand holding the stick tightened its grip until the knuckles went white.

"Fine," he said, quietly. "But it's not going to be easy." He looked down at the wolf. The wolf unconsciously tucked his tail between his legs and crouched just a bit. For the first time, he felt afraid of the guardian.

"We can't just do it ourselves."

"Why not?"

"It's gone too far now. You think you're the only one who can make more of yourself? There's probably thousands of them dicking around in the world, now."

"How do we stop them?"

"People."

"People?"

"We get people to stop them. It's the only way. We'll have to show them how, though."

"But I don't know how!"

The guardian glared. "Then you will learn, and then you'll teach."

Without another word, the guardian stepped through the door and became Duty, and the wolf who was Curiosity followed.

They're still working at it, now. That is why doing one's Duty is almost always painful. Every so often, someone blessed by Curiosity will gain knowledge. If they're egged on long enough by Duty, they'll use that knowledge to strike another blow against the shades. Someday soon, though, Curiosity hopes he can manage to become Wisdom.

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