Garr padded into the child’s bedroom, and settled down on a rug by the fire. He was an old dog, and his scars ached in the cold of the night. Scars gained years past, with his first friend, who’d ridden him and travelled around in a pack with their other, bigger, friends. First-master was dead now, long ago. Garr had not been able to protect him, when they fought the bad ones. But he had new masters now, some big, some small. Life was calmer. He liked being with the big-friend puppies. The small big-friends? They snuggled and chased and gave him food. But he missed first-master. He thought the other masters did too, from time to time; he could see sadness in their eyes. What else could be making them sad?
He drifted off to sleep, dreams of towns and fields and rivers, chasing and sitting with his friends.
But the dream changed, and he was alone, padding along down a path. The sun was setting behind him, and dusk beckoned ahead. The path forked; one way, to the right, curved around and led back, back to the light. The other, to the left, wended its way gradually forward, to a dark forest on the horizon. A sword hung in the air above it; despite the distance, the blade appeared almost alive, as if it were growing from the thorns of a rose. Impossible, but what is impossible in a dream? The image of a boar’s head wavered below it. Did the sword belong to the boar? Or did it threaten to destroy the boar?
Four figures stood at the junction, watching him. They seemed to Garr like his big-masters, only… different, somehow? Both more and less than they should be. One, a golden being, angular, projecting order and solidity. Another, a hunter, horned like a noble stag, scarred and worn like Garr himself. The third, a she-master, silver and strong of focus. And the last, more nebulous, rocking around, laughter and the smell of a tavern. They were watching, judging, waiting.
Garr stopped at the fork in the path. Right was the bright meadow, the play time. The other way, to the left, something darker. But seeing it brought back his instincts, his need. He sniffed the air. Something down that path needed protection. Garr was a good boy; he knew he had to help his friends. He turned left and padded along. Behind him, the figures nodded in unison, satisfied.
Back in the bedroom, a golden radiance settled over Garr. He woke up, feeling a new strength course through him. His eyes shone with the same gold. What was this dream?, he thought. He looked around. The puppy-friend is still asleep. No. Not puppy-friend… child. His rapidly-expanding mind filled with new concepts, stretched for the words. Sveta. Princess Sveta. Of Ursundova. He understood. One of my charges.
Garr stood up, rising on four legs more easily than before. Another thought, and it was two legs, and a human torso. He looked down at his form. Blinked, and back to a dog. Blinked, and two-legged again. Both felt right.
I am Garr. I am… Archon.