Note – Eh, short chapter, I know. But at least Mattaho gets some sense knocked into him once more ^_^' Whoops, said too much. Enjoy, and thank you!

Chapter Twenty - Freedom

Mattaho yawned loudly and lifted his head. He had wakened from the howl of a wolf far away, however it brought him no nostalgia whatsoever. He simply ignored the noise and glanced to the creature next to him.

He was sitting next to the gray cat that night, sleeping side by side as it usually was. Lately she had stopped speaking to him for some reason, although he did not have the faintest idea why. They still would hang around together in the fields and in the house, but there was little conversation. She wasn't angry at him...was she?

Mattaho found it hard to get back to sleep. He closed his eyes, but it was no use. "Stupid instincts..." he muttered to himself. He was too used to being nocturnal. It was so hard to get used to the human's sleeping habits, and the fact that you didn't have to be alert while sleeping. Out in the forest he would usually have to keep one eye open, looking out for danger, but that was not the case anymore. He was safe now.

Mattaho sighed and got up. He couldn't sleep, so he would just wander the house a little until he got tired. He looked outside the window, and noticed it was a full moon. A glorious moon, in fact. The moonlight rays were so bright, it looked like daylight inside the room. The stars contributed to the brightness. They were huge against the pitch black sky.

He then turned around from the window and began to wander about the house. He hoped he would not wake the humans, but it was just so hard to sleep that night.

Suddenly, he paused as he noticed the large mirror in the hallway. He remembered the first time seeing it-he was so afraid that there was another wolf in front of him. He knew better now.

I know better now...he said to himself, I know everything. As he thought of the words, he began to hurt inside again. Why would knowing things hurt him? Mattaho stared deep into the mirror. He never noticed how big he had grown. He almost looked like a full grown adult. His fur was as white as snow, and his eyes were as glittery and blue as water. He seemed to have gained his lost weight back, and looked healthy once more. However...he didn't look like a wolf.

Mattaho cocked his head, lifted his tail, and made all sorts of unusual poses in front of the mirror. Still, no matter how hard he tried, he didn't look like a wolf. Sure, he was one, his body structure told him that. But, he didn't feel like a wolf.

"What's wrong with me?" he asked himself. Mattaho, from the corner of his eye, glanced over to a bowl in the kitchen. It was the bowl the humans fed him with. Meat would be poured into it every morning and evening, and he would eat to his fill. There were little engravings on the bowl, some type of human alphabet. Next to his bowl was the cat's, where they fed her her food as well. He no longer hunted…but instead was fed from the hands of a human. He turned to his reflection in the mirror once more, and a horrifying thought struck him. Am I no longer a wolf?

Mattaho shook the idea off. He shrugged his shoulders and walked back to his napping place, and curled up next to the cat once more. He laid his head down and closed his eyes, trying to find some sleep once more.

"Unsure of who you are?" said a voice, which almost made Mattaho leap in fright.

"You just scared me half to death!" shouted Mattaho as he glanced at the cat.

She did not apologize, but as she lifted her head to face Mattaho, he noticed that the cat wore a serious expression on her face.

"…What?" he asked.

"You have doubts about yourself."

"Doubts about myself?"

"I've been watching you, Mattaho. It seems you have lost your instincts as a creature of the forest. I have been told many stories about wolves-how they are cunning, fierce, and can never be tamed. I look at you, and I believe I that theory is wrong."

Mattaho was enraged at her comment. "I beg your pardon!"

"You heard me right. Mattaho, look at yourself! All you need is a collar and you'll never be a wolf again! You've lost your purpose, you're destiny-which is to be free."

"Then why don't you live in the forest if you're so for this…this freedom thing!"

"Because I am a cat. You, you-are-a-wolf," she said, spelling it out.

"And who says wolves can't live with humans?!"

"Your heart does, Mattaho. Your heart."

Mattaho froze. He was furious with the cat, but didn't know what else to say. She was right. She was right in every way. But…he didn't want to return. He didn't want others to hate him.

"You have no idea of my past. No idea of who I am," he growled.

"Then tell me. All I know of you is that you were brought here, and turned tame. If you just were to tell me of your past, then I could help you," she said.

Mattaho calmed down. He stared at the cat in the eyes, sighed, and began. He told her of how the forest was slowly dying, how his pack was destroyed because of his unusual gift to talk to others, his journey with his friends, and how he was attacked by the BlackClaws, and was forced to tell them of his secrets. He told the cat of how he sunk into a deep depression and wandered the forest, and was eventually found by the humans. The talk went long into the night, and by the time Mattaho finished, it was almost daylight.

The cat nodded to herself when Mattaho concluded his talk. She sat silent for a while, then turned to Mattaho. "You can't run from your past," she said.

"I know that…" Mattaho said, "But…it's the only thing I can do."

"You can face it."

"No, I can't do that," Mattaho spoke as he shook his head, avoiding the idea.

"You can return to the forest and face Nero. Even I am noticing how fast the forest is dying. You must do something before it's too late. Spring is here, and I have yet to see a single flower bloom. If there is a God of the Forest, he's trying to tell us-or you, something. He is trying to communicate-to get help. You must get to him before Nero does!"

"But what if I don't?! What if he is already the Forest God…watching over us now?"

"You're still alive, aren't you?" she asked.

"What?"

"If he is the God of the Forest, you can stop him."

"But how? I'm…I'm just one wolf! Nero has a whole army of BlackClaws by his side, I'm just a…," he suddenly saw images of him running through fields at home, playing in the soft grasses, and chuckling as the gentle wind touched his face. I'm just a pup…he thought to himself sadly.

The cat stopped talking. Slowly, and silently, she reached up a small, black paw, and touched Mattaho's white chest, and smiled. "The answer lies within. Ever heard of that little moral before? I believe that if you have faith, and if you get the wolves to believe in you, nothing can hold you back. Yes, Nero may have a whole pack of BlackClaws behind him, but that doesn't matter, Mattaho. Physical strength has nothing to do with what is happening right now. It has nothing to do with that, understand? True power comes from your soul, Mattaho. And you may not believe it, but if there's anyone that has a strong soul, it's yours. Every day I see those deep, yellow eyes and I know there's hope and strength behind them. You have the power to face your fears. You have the power to end this. So, do me and the rest of the forest a favor, which is to return. Return to the Jade Forest, and destroy the evil, famine, and death. Because if you do that, the paradise will be revealed, the forest will live."

Paradise…

Something entered Mattaho once she said that. It was something that made him strong. It gave him hope, it gave him courage. He suddenly felt braver, ready to take on anything. He felt like a creature of the forest once more, a wolf. A certain warmth entered him as well, and he felt confident in himself once more. He was going to return. He was going to return to the forest, and defeat Nero. He then stood up, looked down at the cat, and smiled. The cat, seeing Mattaho's reaction, smiled in reply.

"Thank you…thank you for everything."

The cat nodded, and sat herself down once more, preparing to rest. "Good luck. And despite what I said before, don't forget us."

"I won't," Mattaho laughed, "Farewell." He then stood up, and headed for the door, where there was an opening which he used to get indoors and outdoors. As he walked, he passed the mirror once more. He looked different. His fur was sleek, white, and shiny; his bones could no longer be seen through it. His legs looked longer, more vigorous and robust. This was what he imagined himself as deep down. He looked like a wolf again, and beamed happily at his appearance, proud of himself.

"Freedom."