The Wolf at the End of the World

A shapeshifter hero battles ancient spirits, a covert government agency, and his own dark past in a race to solve a murder that could mean the end of the world.

"I can’t remember the last time I read a book that spoke to me, so eloquently, and so deeply, on so many levels. ... I’ll be rereading it in the future because it’s that sort of book. Richly layered and deeply resonant. An old friend, from the first time you read it."
—Charles de Lint, World Fantasy Award winner

Cree and Ojibwe legends mix with current day environmental conflict in this fast-paced urban fantasy that keeps you on the edge of your seat right up to its explosive conclusion. With an introduction by Charles de Lint.

Novel  |  360 pages |  Lucky Bat Books, Oct 2013
ISBN: 978-0-9918007-3-5 (trade paperback)
ISBN: 978-0-9918007-4-2 (ebook)



The Heroka walk among us. Unseen, unknown. Shapeshifters. Human in appearance but with power over their animal totems.

Gwyn Blaidd is a Heroka of the wolf totem. Once he led his people in a deadly war against the Tainchel, the shadowy agency that hunts his kind. Now he lives alone in his wilderness home, wolves his only companions.

But when an Ojibwe girl is brutally killed in Gwyn's old hometown, suspicion falls on his former lover. To save her, Gwyn must return, to battle not only the Tainchel, but even darker forces: ancient spirits fighting to enter our world…

And rule it.

Trailer  |  Excerpt  |  Reviews  |  On writing about another culture


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Spirit Dance

THE WOLF AT THE END OF THE WORLD is based on my award-winning story, "Spirit Dance," picking up events five years later. You do NOT need to have read "Spirit Dance" to fully enjoy THE WOLF, but if you're interested, you can pick up "Spirit Dance” from my website store or all the major ebook retailers either as an individual ebook or as part of my collection, IMPOSSIBILIA



An urban fantasy novel

by Douglas Smith

© Douglas Smith 2013. All rights reserved.



PART I: "Draw to You the Wolf and Boy"

"Of old, men were placed here on Earth by the Powers in this wise: they were pitied and befriended by every kind of thing, by as many things as are seen, and by things that are invisible. They dreamt of every kind of thing. Even the animals taught them things. That is why the old-time people had Manitou power."

Louis Moosomin, Cree, blind from childhood



Chapter 1: Mary

Everything had gone wrong, and now Mary Two Rivers was running away. Away from the dam site, away from the damage they'd done, stumbling through the bush in the dark, trying to keep up with Jimmy White Creek and ahead of the security guards. And the dogs. She could hear dogs barking now.


What had she been thinking? Why had she gone along with Jimmy and the rest of them? She was an A-student. She was going to university in the fall. She had plans, plans to get off the Rez. Plans that didn't include jail.

Hanging a banner over the dam protesting the loss of Ojibwa land was one thing, but then somebody had poured gasoline on one of the construction vehicles and lit it on fire. And she'd let herself be part of it.

Just because Jimmy had a cute smile and cuter butt—a butt that was getting farther and farther ahead of her as she struggled to keep up. She was a bookworm, not an athlete, and the ground was starting to rise. Jimmy was heading for the west ridge overlooking the still inoperative dam site and its reservoir lake. She didn't know where the other kids had gone. Everyone had scattered when the guards had appeared, and she'd followed Jimmy. Or tried to.

"Jimmy!" she cried in a desperate whisper. "Wait up!" She didn't know these woods anymore. If she lost him, she doubted she'd get far before the guards caught her.

Jimmy stopped on the hill ahead of her, chest heaving, breath hanging misty in the chill October air. The moonlight caught his pale, sweating face, and in that moment, she wondered how she'd ever thought he was handsome. "Mary, you gotta keep up," he panted, his voice breaking. "There's a path through the trees on top of the ridge. We'll lose them in there and cut back to the Rez." He started up the slope again, not waiting for her.

Forcing her trembling legs to move, she kept climbing. Jimmy disappeared over the top. Half a minute later, she scrambled up the last few yards. She looked around. Jimmy was nowhere in sight.

The tall Jack pines stood closer here, the undergrowth thick between them, their high tops touching, blocking off the cold light from the waxing half moon. Whatever path Jimmy had taken was invisible, hidden by darkness.

She was alone and lost.

She sank down to the ground, shaking. She was going to be caught. She was going to jail. What were her parents going to say? Their dream was for her to get a degree, to beat the odds of being born on the Rez. Their dream...

She swore softly to herself. Her dream, too. She stood up, her anger conquering her fear. They would not catch her. Sucking in a deep breath, she let it out slowly to calm herself as she looked back down the hill she'd just climbed.

The dam and its dark captured lake lay in the distance below. Five burly figures were climbing the bottom of the hill. But worse, ahead of the guards, two grey shadows leapt over the rocks and brush of the slope. The dogs would reach her in less than a minute.

Turning back to the forest, she listened for any sound of Jimmy running ahead. There. Had that been a branch snapping deep in the woods? She moved in the direction of the noise, tripping over unseen rocks and roots. One patch of darkness loomed blacker than the rest. She stepped closer. It seemed to be an opening through the trees. Praying for this to be the path that Jimmy had taken, she plunged ahead.

As she moved into the forest, her eyes slowly adjusted to the deeper darkness under the trees, aided by the occasional sliver of moonlight slicing through the canopy of branches above. This was definitely a path. She paused a moment, straining to hear any sound of pursuit. The dogs were still barking, but they didn't sound any closer.

The barking stopped. In the sudden silence, she heard the yip of a fox. She shuddered involuntarily, remembering a saying of her misoomish, her grandfather. "Bad luck," he'd told her as a child. "You hear a fox bark in the night, that's bad luck." But then the dogs took up their call again, and she allowed herself a small thrill of hope. The barking was fainter now. The dogs, and presumably the men with them, were moving away from her. They hadn't found this path.

She was going to get away. The tension gripping her vanished, and her shaking legs gave way. She collapsed onto the soft cushion of pine needles that covered the ground. Sweat soaking her t-shirt under her parka, she hugged her knees to her chest, shivering from the chill and the adrenaline still in her.

Now that the immediate danger was gone, another thought came to her. Just last week, a worker had been killed at the dam site. Animal attack, they were saying. Because his body had been partially eaten, she recalled with a shudder.

Suddenly, huddled on the forest floor in the dark, she didn't feel quite as safe as she had a moment before. She wanted nothing more than to be home in her own bed, to hear her parents in the next room, talking or arguing, she didn't care which, just so long as she was out of this nightmare. With that image filling her heart, she stood and started along the path once more, still praying to catch Jimmy, to have him lead her out of these woods, to lead her home.

A brightness grew ahead. A few seconds later, she stepped into a clearing lit in cold luminescence by the half moon above. A rocky outcrop rose ahead and to her left as well. She turned to her right. Her heart fell.

She stood at the top of the ridge. Below, the ground sloped away sharply, the pines thinning halfway down the slope then disappearing completely where the forest had been cleared near the bottom. The slope ended at the road leading onto the top of the dam. Beyond the dam, the black surface of the lake rippled like some great beast shuddering itself awake in the night.

She'd been running the wrong way, back towards the dam.

With a sudden sick feeling, she realized what she should have figured out earlier. The dogs would have followed a scent. They hadn't followed her, so they must have been on Jimmy's trail, which meant that Jimmy had taken another path, not the one that had led her here.

She'd taken the wrong path.

She looked wildly around the clearing, searching for some alternative to retracing her steps. The slope below led right back to the dam and the scene of the crime, so that route was out. The dark lake caught her attention again, recalling childhood memories of her grandfather's stories, the ones about the evil spirits that lived in deep water.

She turned her back on the lake and those memories. Enough. Time to go home. She considered the rock walls. The one facing the entrance to the path was almost sheer and rose too high for her even to think of trying to scale it. The wall facing the lake was less steep and offered some handholds for climbing.

It looked about twenty feet high. She examined its face for the best route, finally selecting a path that would bring her up beside a large boulder that perched by itself at the top of the wall.

Or maybe it was a bush, since she saw something move on it, like branches shifting in the wind. Just then, a cloud scuttled across the night sky, swallowing the moon. As the clearing fell dark, she shivered at a sudden strange thought—that the shape had resembled something crouched there, and what she'd seen moving were actually long locks of hair.

Another gust brought a smell down to her, thick and heavy—the smell of mushrooms and rotting wood and wet moss. Bitter, and yet so sickly sweet that she thought she would vomit.

The cloud hiding the moon moved on. Pale moonlight shone down again, cold and cruel, and Mary finally saw what crouched above her, waiting.



Chapter 2: Deep Water

Ed Two Rivers was dreaming. In his dream, he was no longer an old Ojibwa man with a bad back. He was a hell-diver duck, young and strong and full of life. The hell-diver had been his personal manitou since his vision quest when he was twelve. Fifty-five years ago. Dreams of the hell-diver had special meaning. He would learn something tonight.


He was floating on a black lake at night, his webbed feet moving him easily over small swells. The moon shone full and bright and cold on the lake, but could not penetrate the water's dark surface, giving no hint of what lay beneath.

He dove, and darkness closed around him. The water was warm at first, warmer than the night air above had been. But a chill seeped through the soft down under his feathers as his feet drove him deeper. Deeper and closer to what lay below, to what lay waiting, had lain waiting for so long...

Ed woke, gasping for breath. He sat up, and as he did, pain stabbed his lower back and shot down his right leg. He groaned. The memory of youth and strength from the dream slipped away. He sighed. Back to reality. The bedside clock glared at him in red digits: 3:46 AM.

Vera stirred beside him. "Ed?"

He grunted.

"You okay?" she mumbled.

No, he wasn't okay, but he wouldn't mention his dream. His wife was white and a Christian, but that wasn't why he wouldn't tell her. His vision dreams worried her. He'd been right too many times. "Damn back's killing me."

"Can you move? Want something for it?"

"I'm okay. Gonna get up for a while till it calms down."

Vera was snoring again by the time he'd managed to slip his legs over the side of the bed. He rose slowly, waited for the pain to subside, then slipped on his pants and went quietly into their small living room.

He and Vera lived above the general store they ran in Thunder Lake. The place was small, but it was enough for them. Enough space for living and enough to be alone in when they got on each other's nerves, which wasn't often.

He eased into the old armchair by the window overlooking the street below. Turning on the small television with the remote, he flipped channels, not watching what appeared, just wanting a flow of images to wash the dream from his mind. He clicked the TV off finally. Damn thing only got half the channels anyway.

Outside, the stoplight at the corner changed, throwing a patch of red on the room's faded wallpaper, like blood splashed on the wall.

Red, he thought. Just red. Not blood. Damn dream, getting me all morbid.

A dream of deep water.

He knew what that meant. He'd kept the old beliefs and practices. The priests at the residential school had tried to beat them out of him, but he'd been one of the lucky ones. He'd only spent four years in the school before his father had spirited him away to live with his grandfather in the bush. And his grandfather had taught him the old ways.

He'd tried to pass those ways on to his son, but Charlie had never been interested. Charlie had never been in a residential school, but to Ed, his son was still a victim. He'd lost his culture.

Charlie didn't see it that way. "What's that shit ever brought us?" Charlie had demanded recently, when he'd caught Ed and Mary discussing differences between Cree and Ojibwa shaking tent ceremonies. "Did it keep our land for us? Can it get us jobs? Why don't you conjure me up a new car?"

"Dad, I enjoy Grampa's stories," Mary had replied.

Charlie had glared at Mary. "And you, too. It was bad enough, him filling your head with all the stories when you were a kid. But you're going to university—"

"To study anthropology," Mary had said. "And this relates to that. Shaman practices of Anishinabe peoples share similarities with ancient rituals around the world."

"Ancient," Charlie had snorted, walking out of the room. "You got that right."

Ed shook his head as he sat in the darkness. Well, at least Mary still wanted to hear the old stories, hear him talk of the old ways, even if now it was just part of her studies of dead cultures. Dying, he corrected himself. Not dead yet. Just like him. Not quite dead yet.

Mary's face faded from his mind, morphing into the black lake of his dream. Having thoughts of his granddaughter alongside a vision of deep water sent a chill through him.

When he'd acquired the hell-diver as his personal manitou so many years ago, he had thought the duck a particularly appropriate spirit guide. As a bird, it was one with the realm of the air. Spirits of the air were benevolent, more indulgent of the foibles of humans. But the hell-diver was also at home in the water, and the Ojibwa believed it acted as a messenger to the spirits of the underworld, malevolent beings that dwelled in the deep places of the world. Underground. Deep water.

No use having a spirit guide if it only picked up half the channels.

He knew what dreams of deep water meant. Something bad was coming, maybe already here. He tried to recall the dream. He had a feeling it had told him more than he remembered, which wasn't much, beyond a sense of foreboding.

Downstairs, somebody knocked on the door to the store. He jumped. Vera stirred in the bedroom. He stood, wincing at the pain in his back. With a feeling of apprehension, he started down the stairs. Didn't have to be a shaman to read this sign. A knock at four in the morning was never good news.

In the store, he shuffled past the new floor display of bathroom tissue. The only light came from the front windows. The thin curtain on the door window showed a silhouette wearing a familiar hat.

OPP. Ontario Provincial Police.

He stopped, putting a hand on a shelf to steady himself, knocking a tin of corn niblets to the floor. Was it Charlie? In an accident? Maybe just another fight, and they locked Charlie up until morning. But the cops wouldn't wake Ed up for that.

The silhouette outside knocked again. He forced himself to move. What else could it be? Not Mary. She was a good kid. Never went to the bars. She'd be home safe in bed this time of night. Mary was okay. Charlie was okay.

Everybody's okay, he told himself as he unlocked the door.

A cold draft hit him. A female constable stood outside. White, stocky. Willie Burrell. Ed knew all the cops. It was a small town, and the store had been broken into twice. Plus all those times bailing Charlie out after some brawl. Behind her, another cop leaned on a cruiser. Frank Mueller. A real prick.

Willie's lips were pressed together into a tight line, as if she was afraid something might escape from behind them. She nodded. "Ed."

"Willie," Ed said, running a hand through his long grey hair. "What's up?"

"Afraid I have some bad news."

Don't ask, he thought. If he didn't ask, it hadn't happened. As soon as he asked, as soon as he heard, then it was real. At the curb, Mueller lit a cigarette. The sudden flame caught Ed's eye. Mueller casually flicked the match into a puddle. It hit the dirty water with a hiss, sending ripples across it that recalled the black lake of his dream.

He pulled his eyes back to Willie's face. "What's happened?"

"We've found a body. No I.D., but a native girl, we think."

Native girl. Not Mary. No, not that. "Where?" he asked. It would be somewhere off the Rez, else the native police force would be the ones at his door.

"Near the dam lake," Willie said. "Since you're a council elder, we're hoping you can identify her. Sorry."

The dam lake. Deep water. The thought came unbidden, and the coldness inside him grew. But he just nodded. "Gimme a minute."

Closing the door, he leaned against the wall. Native girl. Somewhere inside, he could feel something slipping away, some part of his life that wasn't coming back, as if it were sinking beneath the surface of that dark oily lake from his dream.

Leaving a note for Vera, he dressed, put on his coat, and stepped outside.


Ed sat in the back of the cruiser, the cops in the front, Mueller driving. The dam site was about seven miles southeast of town, accessible by old logging roads and a drive of at least fifteen minutes.


They didn't talk much. Willie seemed pretty shaken up, and Mueller never went out of his way to talk with any Ojibwa. The silence suited Ed at first, afraid to learn more of the victim, afraid it would sound like Mary.

But then the black forest flowing past the road started shifting into the dark lake in his dream, and he suddenly wanted something to take his mind off the vision. "How'd she die? This kid?" Not Mary, just some kid. Some poor other kid.

Willie paused before answering. "Animal attack by the looks of it."

"What do you mean? Bite marks on the body?"

Mueller's lip curled. He grinned, Ed thought. The asshole just grinned. Willie looked back. "She was eaten, Ed."

He frowned. Animal encounters in the bush were common, but attacks were rare. Deaths even more so. "What did it look like? From the wounds. What kind of animal?"

Mueller shrugged. "What are we? The Discovery Channel? Something hungry. Not much left of the body."

Willie looked back at Ed again, but didn't say anything. A few minutes later, Mueller turned onto the dam road. About a mile in, he pulled over at the foot of a slope leading up to a forested ridge overlooking the dam and its lake.

"Thought the body was at the dam," Ed said as they got out.

Willie nodded up the slope. "On the ridge."

They started up the incline, Willie and Mueller leading the way with flashlights. Ed followed, wincing from the pain in his back whenever he missed his step in the dim moonlight.

"Who found the body?" Ed asked.

"Security guards from the dam," Willie said. "There'd been more vandalism, and they were chasing some suspects." Mueller snorted at the word 'suspects.' Willie continued. "Their dogs followed one trail but lost it. Whoever it was, they'd been heading back to the Rez. Then the guards turned the dogs loose again on another scent. Found the body in a clearing overlooking the dam."

They reached the top of the ridge, and Ed was glad to see that Mueller seemed as winded as he was. "Any chance the dogs killed her?"

The cops glanced at each other. Mueller's smirk disappeared. Willie shook her head. "The guards found the dogs huddled in a corner of the clearing as far from the body as they could get. Whining like they were afraid of it."

Ed frowned. "Probably could smell whatever attacked her."

Mueller snorted again. "These are Dobermans. Trained guard dogs. Not much those mothers are afraid of."

But they were afraid of something, Ed thought.

Willie led them to a path into the trees, marked off with yellow police tape. Ed looked at the tape. "You're gonna let a civilian into a crime scene?"

"The SOC officer cleared it with Forensic I.D. in the Soo," Willie said. "Our team's finished with the site. It's okay."

SOC. Scenes of Crime. Ed frowned. If the OPP Forensic Identification unit in Sault Ste. Marie had cleared access to the scene, then they'd already decided that this was an accidental death.

Ducking under the tape, they started along the path, Ed behind the cops. The path was narrow, so conversation stopped until they reached a clearing. As they stepped out of the trees, Ed caught a whiff of mushrooms, sharp and acrid, mixed with something sickly sweet. A childhood memory tickled at the back of his mind, then fled.

Four big torchlights sat on the ground in each corner of the clearing, their beams facing in. A man not in uniform knelt hunched over the body while a uniformed cop shone a flashlight onto it. They blocked any view of the corpse's face, but the lower part of the torso was visible. Ed caught his breath.

All the clothing had been ripped off, and most of the flesh was missing from the limbs and pelvis, leaving bones shining white and red in the flashlight's beam. He turned away. Two other cops were completing a scan of the ground in the clearing. One was Bill Thornton, a staff sergeant and the senior OPP officer in Thunder Lake. He would be the SOC officer. Thornton said something to the other cop and then walked over to them.

Thornton shook Ed's hand. "Ed. Sorry about dragging you out here..." He kept talking, saying all the usual stuff. Ed nodded, not listening, trying not to look at the body.

The guy kneeling beside the body stood up and started to walk towards them. He was balding and wore wire-rimmed glasses and a rumpled grey suit. Ben Capshaw, the local medical examiner. The corpse's face was visible now, but Ed didn't look at it, telling himself to focus on Capshaw, not the body. He didn't need to know yet.

Capshaw had a clear plastic bag in his hand. Something glinted in it, shiny and silver. Still avoiding the body, Ed's eyes ran to the brightness in the bag. It was a necklace, big silver loops with an oval pendant attached.

A sudden cry escaped him, and he took a step back as his legs almost gave way.

"Ed?" Willie said. "You okay?"

Ignoring her, he walked slowly to the body. To where his granddaughter, his beautiful granddaughter, lay dead.

Beautiful no more. He stared at the mutilated corpse, forcing himself to look at the face. Multiple parallel slashes that looked like claw marks had ripped most of the flesh away, but he could still recognize Mary. Just as he'd recognized the necklace he'd given her for her sixteenth birthday.

His tears came, and with them, a river of memories—holding Mary when she was born—her first birthday—playing the snow dart game with her—teaching her to hunt and fish—telling her stories in the hunting lodge on long winter nights—listening with her as the moon sang across a summer night sky—helping her review before her exams—watching her grow year by year into a beautiful young woman, smart and strong.

Wiping his eyes, he straightened and turned away from the thing at his feet. That wasn't Mary anymore. Mary was gone. She was in the Spirit World now. In the distance, the dark lake lay calm, reflecting the sinking half-moon like an obsidian mirror. His dream of deep water intruded again. Could've been the same time, he thought. I could've been having that dream when she was dying.

No. His hands clenched into fists. No. Not dying. Being killed. Something killed her. Killed his granddaughter. And he was going to find out what it was.

But he let none of this show on his face as he walked back to the waiting cops. The Ojibwa way was silent fortitude in the face of hardship. But even if his emotions rarely showed, they were still there.

"Ed?" Willie asked.

"It's Mary," he said, his voice low but strong. Willie gave a little gasp. "It's my granddaughter." He stopped. No, not it. "She is my granddaughter." Or should he say 'she was my granddaughter?' What was correct here? He shook his head. Get a grip.

He pointed to the bag with the necklace. "That's hers. On that pendant, there's a blue heron. On the back, it says—" His words caught in his throat, and he had to look away before he could continue. "In Ojibwa, it says 'Fly where your dreams take you'."

"So she's Charlie's kid," Mueller said, as if that explained something.

"Jesus, I'm so sorry, Ed," Thornton said.

Ed knew he meant it. "Did it happen here?"

Capshaw nodded. "Yes, judging from the amount of blood where the, uh, the body was found. There's no blood anywhere else."


"Probably not more than three hours ago," Capshaw replied. "The autopsy will confirm that, of course."

"So she helped torch the trucks at the dam site," Mueller muttered. "A trouble-maker like her old man."

Ed moved towards Mueller, but Thornton stepped between them. "Shut up, Mueller," Thornton said, his voice sharp.

Mueller glared at Thornton, but said nothing. Shooting a black look at Ed, he turned and stalked out of the clearing.

Thornton sighed. "Sorry, Ed. He's an asshole."

Ed didn't answer. He watched as Capshaw closed Mary's body bag, the sound of the zipper slicing into him like a knife.

"You want me to call Charlie and Elizabeth?" Thornton asked after a moment.

Elizabeth was Mary's mom. "I'll call them," Ed said quietly, still staring at the body bag. "What killed her?"

Thornton looked surprised. "Animal attack, for sure. Pretty obvious from the state of the, uh, well, you know..."

"What kind?"

Thornton shrugged. "Bear. Wolves, maybe."

"Find any tracks?"

"No, but this clearing's all rock. Capshaw'll be able to tell us from the bite marks and any hair he finds on the, uh...that he finds." Telling Ed again that he was sorry, Thornton left to talk to Capshaw.

Ed walked to where the clearing overlooked the dam and its captured lake. He shook his head. The dam had been bad news from the start, splitting the Ojibwa community. He and others had protested against the loss of their hunting grounds, the impact on wildlife. More had argued that the money the provincial government was offering could buy much-needed social services on the Rez. Others, like Charlie, had just wanted the money that new jobs at the site would bring.

In the end, the money had won. Money always won.

He stared at the dark lake, remembering the priests teaching the story of Noah's Ark. That flood had been to cleanse the world of evil. Guess it'd missed a few spots, he thought. Seemed that white man floods destroyed what was good, not what was evil. The flooding here hadn't saved the animals in pairs—it'd killed them or driven them away.

Now his Mary was gone too.

Willie walked up beside him. She squeezed his arm. "Let me take you home, Ed."

He sighed and nodded. Turning to go, he glanced down the slope. He stopped. "Willie, give me your flashlight, will you?"

Willie handed the light to him, and he shone the beam over the ground. He'd been a hunter since he was a kid and a guide for years before he met Vera. He saw something. There. And there. "Something went down here. Not too long ago."

Willie squinted down the hill. "How can you tell?"

"Pine needles been kicked up. They're wet. Something turned them over recently." He started down the hill, grabbing tree trunks for balance with his free hand, avoiding areas that had been disturbed. He almost slipped twice, his back screaming each time.

Twenty feet down, he knelt beside an impression in the ground. The smell of mushrooms, acrid and sharp, stung his nostrils again. Again, childhood memories stirred but skittered away. The ground was softer here. He carefully brushed away dead needles and leaves from the impression. When he'd uncovered it all, he stood.

Willie came up beside him. "Find something?"

He pointed with the flashlight beam.

"Holy shit," she said.

It was a footprint. A barefoot, human footprint.



# end of excerpt #

Order The Wolf at the End of the World now at the these links.

Buying Links

THE WOLF AT THE END OF THE WORLD is based on my award-winning story, "Spirit Dance," picking up events five years later. You do NOT need to have read "Spirit Dance" to fully enjoy THE WOLF, but if you're interested, you can pick up "Spirit Dance” from my website store or all the major ebook retailers either as an individual ebook or as part of my collection, IMPOSSIBILIA