[P] Never So Alive
The early morning was unusually crisp, hinting at the cooling summer and change of season to come.  The pale blue sky was streaked with wispy clouds that glowed in the sun’s light.  Fresh scents of tree sap, pine needles and a myriad others, drifted on a soft breeze.  The day was calm, quiet and tranquil.  In essence, it was a perfect morning, utterly unmarred by the tragedies of a day’s events.  As always, it was utterly lost on Aidan, to whom the understanding of beauty was just that, an understanding.  The Warden saw the world in terms of threat, advantage and challenge.  It was the latter principle that had drawn him to the great falls today.

It was impossible to deny the power of the falls.  Simply on the approach the vibrations of the pounding water could be felt through the ground.  Even in this season, when the rains were sparse in falling, tonnes of water still thundered over the edge of the falls, tumbling breathlessly to the pool below and exploding in a spray of white mist, that produced rainbows of colours at the right time of day. 

Aidan stood a small distance from the pool, looking up at the craggy cliff face.  Looking up the rock wall seemed impossibly high, but the Warden had determined to climb it, a way of training beyond combat, to test his strength and stamina outside of the arena or bar brawl.  He could see what needed to be done, where he would place his hands and feet, and Aidan was unburdened by doubt of his own abilities.

With preparedness, but without ceremony or ritual, Aidan had begun to climb.  His progress was steady, seeking out the handholds and toeholds he had mapped.  As he climbed, his world shrank to a moment, the past and future falling away.  His senses, his body and his mind were all focused on the next hold.  There was no thought of the top, or of a fall, just the next step.  He focused on his breathing, on the information his arms and legs fed him, and though he felt the thrum in the rock from the pounding water falling just beyond him, it did not impinge upon Aidan.

Time became elastic, losing all meaning in the climb, so the Warden would not have been able to say how long he climbed for.  When the summit appeared, just a few hand holds away, easily within reach, Aidan felt a mild surprise.  There, so close to his goal, Aidan’s foot slipped.  With the reflexes of one trained in combat he quickly found a substitute, but the force of his placement caused the rock to crumble, shattering and sliding off down the cliff face.  His arms now took the strain of his entire body.  Flailing with his feet would use up energy far more rapidly, but his time was short.  As strong as he was, gravity would always win in a tugging match. 

The Warden’s eyes scanned for any footholds, his breathing remained steady, but his prospects were bleak.  As if that weren’t enough, one of his hands gripped a rock that was slick.  His climb had drifted closer to the falls and here, occasional spray swept over the rocks. 

As his mind cycled through possible solutions, coming up short every time, Aidan was forced to realise the conclusion.  As he did, he looked down and something in his mind shifted.  The void, so carefully erected, began to crack, and as it did, adrenaline pounded through his system.  The world came alive in a manner it had never before.  He was faced with the inevitability of his death, and all he was able to focus on was the ecstasy of the sensation running through him, flooding his mind, and Aidan [i]laughed]/i] it was a genuine sound, at the absurdity of his predicament, feeling so alive at the brink of his death.  A face came into his mind as Aidan tightened his grip, not fearing the end, but determined to fight it and cling to this extraordinary feeling he’d finally discovered.
Song. It was almost as sacred as prayer to him, though the latter was becoming arduous. Amos’s faith had wavered before, but not quite like this. There was anger, but it wasn’t as extreme as it was in the past. Not towards god, but to his teachers. There was guilt, some to his feelings for others, most to what he did to his friend. That guilt he carried with him everywhere he went. Song wasn’t healing him, but it was something that passed the time. Sometimes he could think about something else while he strummed. Never able to forget where he was, and what he was, but get lost in the song for a spell.

A spell always cut short by time. Time spent serving a master that wouldn’t let him go. It hurt when he was traded by Paulina, but that was when he believed he loved her. Distance brought clarity, and he eventually realized she was not at all someone to love. Inflicting pain on others was her favorite thing to do, and Amos got his fair share, twisted in false love and tangles in bed. She made him a good slave though, one who’d listen, but he was beginning to protest in tiny ways now. Staying out for a little too long, nothing too offensive, but still something.

Instead of time cutting his song short, laughter came from nearby, barely audible over the nearby falls. Was someone playing in the water below? Amos sauntered over and peered past the edge. No one was down below in the water, which perplexed him, though he then noticed the dangling cliff climber. It took him a moment to register that someone was there, and another moment to realize they were in danger. Then why would they laugh? What were they doing there in the first place! Amos dropped to his knees and leaned down, extending an arm as far as he could, while maintaining some leverage. “Take my hand,” he shouted. “I’ll try to pull you up!” He had some scraggly rope in the form of his lute strap, if he needed to reach further. Said instrument laid beside him. He doubted it would hold anyone's weight, but certain death was less preferable to possible death.

Then it dawned on the bard. Flesh and bone would yield well after the rope would. "Bite my arm if you have to," he permitted, "Don't worry about me, just don't let go."
There was an ecstasy in treading the razorblade between life and death.  Never before had Aidan felt so spectacularly alive.  It was as though, until that moment, his mind had been swaddled in cloth.  The irony of it all being, that he would only be able to appreciate this until his grip failed.

The voice interrupted Aidan’s epiphany, and he looked up into the eyes of one of the kingdom’s servants.  Though Aidan didn’t remember this one’s name, he was sure he’d seen the other performing duties around the lands.  The brown and white pelted male was supine above him, his hand reaching for Aidan.  On top of the Warden’s realisation, there was another.  The male above reaching out his hand owed him nothing, but had placed himself in danger for no other reason than seeing another Luperci in danger.  There was no advantage to be gained by this.

”I won’t bite you, the downward force would cause me to rend your flesh.  I will grab your hand, and try to gain purchase on the rock.”

Aidan hoped the servant had an anchor, or a great deal of strength, or the two of them would fall.  The Warden did not fear death, but it’d been his choice and the servant should not be punished for Aidan’s desire to climb.

Taking a breath, Aidan did his best to focus, doing his best to retreat to the void he knew so well, though it refused to come.  Gritting his teeth, Aidan used both hands to pull himself closer to the servant, knowing that if Aidan missed the other’s hand, his one arm would not be strong enough to support his weight and downward momentum.  For a breathless second Aidan hung there, and then he clasped the other’s hand, falling against the rock and quickly doing his best to find footholds and a place to grip with his other hand. 

”I will push myself towards you, if you are able to pull at the same time I will have enough leverage to make it up to where you are.  Are you ready?”

Aidan asked, knowing that the two of them needed to in tandem.
There was no rhyme or reason in the terms of personal gain. Of course Amos saw the potential benefits of saving the life of someone in a better station, but they were not the driving force of his decision making. He was taught, from the moment of utterance of thought, that all life was sacred. That lesson morphed as he aged. Swiftly it moved from all life, to that of luperci kind. Hints of cultural superiority tossed in, how he and his own were better than all the other packs of canines out in the world. He swallowed that concoction in his youth, but as time went on that swill had been expelled.

Hand clasped tightly, a vice grip. Never once had Amos ever held anything so securely, so dearly before. The life of another was on par with his own, no matter how high or low the vessel of the soul was. From the greatest monarch to the most wretched slave; it didn’t matter. As he stared down at the man he was attempting to save, he could feel something growing quite quickly in his body. This surge of energy, a frantic rush pushed in one direction. Nigh euphoric, if it wasn’t for the dire situation. A twisted, energized knot in his stomach and radiating out like waves. The bard was sturdy, his body tuned by a life of labor, and though he was no hulk of muscle like some of the men and women inhabiting the world, he was quite strong.

Alas, the hand hold was nowhere near as sweet as a typical one could be. This was, in fact, a matter of life and death. More so a defiance of the latter. One could romanticize this encounter, this thinning of the veil between mortals and repose. Perhaps he would later on, put his feelings into song, but for now his attention was entirely poured into the cliff hanger.

The bard understood the instructions, they were pretty straight forward. Whether or not he was strong enough himself to carry them out was yet to be seen. “I am,” he told the man, and then he pulled. Combined strengths seemed to be enough as Amos was able to assist the man in raising himself up. It seemed agonizingly slow, however, but his sense of time may have been skewed given what was happening.

Amos life had been saved once by a dear friend. Those were the things that were expected. Knights sacrificing themselves for kings or fair maidens. Friends never leaving each other's side, even in the worst situations. He knew this man little, but he knew the man was luperci, was alive, and though Amos had consistently been dealt bad hands, he still could be this man’s ace. Anyone could be that for someone, yet so many wouldn’t. So many would take advantage of the predicament. He pulled, and pulled using his other hand once possible. This act would be one of kindness and nothing else. Amos would not be like his masters, both past and present.

And once they were on the same ground as the servant, Amos finally let go, hands sore from gripping so tightly. His arms only now protested, or only now he could feel it. The bard was panting and looked to the man he saved. A breathy chuckle leapt from his chest and he shook his head. “You better have a good reason for climbing the cliff,” he playfully chided the rescued man. "Please tell me it wasn't because you wanted to get up here faster than just going around."
The servant’s grip was firm and unyielding, a solid and stable thing, an anchor.  For a heartbeat Aidan paused, a treacherous part of himself not wanting to leave this situation, wanting to extend it out as long as he possibly could.  The exhilaration of it had shattered the void and he’d felt not because of alcohol, but because Aidan had stepped onto the razor thin tightrope that spanned a chasm between life and oblivion.  The heartbeat passed, and Aidan finally pushed himself up.  Already exhausted from the climb, his muscles screamed in protest, but the Warden had never given into physical fatigue easily.  With the servant’s help he scrambled over the lip, stumbling forwards and away from the edge as the effort the two Luperci had put into the climb quickly bore fruit.

As Aidan straightened, his heartbeat raced, and he felt the tremors of fading adrenaline, racing through his body.

”You have my thanks.” Aidan said simply.

The Warden listened as the servant spoke, and paused for a moment thinking.  Without answering the question though, Aidan turned away and walked to the edge, looking over it at the mind bending fall.  There had been a rapturous moment where the grey eyed male had felt like never before.  The memory of it was already fading, and the void had began to reform, engulfing him, making him realise the foolishness of such an endeavour, but leaving him able to acknowledge the usefulness of the knowledge he’d gained from it.

Turning away from the precipice, the Warden walked back towards his rescuer.

”I am Aidan Blacksun, and you saved my life.  Why did I climb the cliff?”

Aidan paused, the reason for it not entirely clear to himself.  Finally, though he answered, for no other reason to do the Luperci that had risked his life, of answering the question.

”It was an experiment.  I have been told that many Luperci derive great enjoyment from pastimes.  The cliff seemed a suitable challenge, as well as perhaps helping to continue training my body so that I am able to perform my duties to the pack.”

The grey eyed male looked at the servant for another moment ”I experienced a euphoria that I’ve never felt before, it was intoxicating, and had unexpected effects.”

Once more, Aidan was surrounded by the void, and his tone was flat and his face inscrutable.  There was also no doubt in his mind, that he would try climbing the cliff once more.

”Who are you? And what brings you to these falls?  Of course, it is good that you were here, but I rarely see others in this place.”

Aidan looked at what the servant was carrying.

”Is that an instrument? Are you a tale singer?”
Amos had his hobbies and wanted to try more, so he could understand why Aidan was seeking others. However, he could not fathom why anyone would want to climb a cliff face past the point of death if a fall were to occur. Thrills sought and gained was one thing, to put one’s life on the line was entirely different. Clearly Aidan was bewitched, but Amos held his tongue on that thought. Till’s infrequent, but sickeningly casual threats that he may lose his tongue also made the coydog stay his thoughts.

It was just that Amos really thought working with wood, instead of climbing to one’s death, was a far better way to contribute to the pack. “You nearly died, but you didn’t, so of course you feel more alive than you ever had,” Amos rationalized Aidan’s adrenaline-fueled epiphany. “But take it from a man who chased that high; you’ll either die seeking it or maybe you’ll end up worse than dead.” Gambling was his vice, he prayed the cliff climber wouldn’t make near-death experiences their pastime.

“My name is Amos, and I serve the Jagermeister Till and his children,” he explained, and then glanced to the waterfall. “I just wanted to find a place where I wouldn’t bother anyone,” the bard elaborated a little. Till’s sons were very easy to upset, namely Spartacus. The brat loved to bite and seemed to enjoy trying to hurt Amos.

“As for my lute,” Amos looked away from the stringed instrument and gave a smile, though his heart was still pounding from the rescue. “I enjoy playing music, and singing too! Whether it be tales or little songs.” The bard was very skilled, he learned fast and even though he was traded hands many times, the fact that he was allowed to keep the instrument meant he got to become better and better at it. Amos was worth less if he wasn’t able to perform, it was his only saving grace in keeping his closest friend. “The Jagermeister lets me play, though he doesn’t seem to enjoy my music most of the time.” The man admitted. "I suppose that's why I'm out here, and not at home."
As the void settled around Aidan once more, he became the flame in darkness.  The Warden could look on what had occurred with a dispassionate detachment which was so quintessentially Aidan. 

”My life is my own, and death comes to all Luperci, either through stupidity, illness or age.  My error was to take your hand and involve you and place another at risk because of my decision.”

The words doubtless sounded fatalistic, though to the warden, they were logical.  Of course, Aidan understood why he’d taken the hand, the survivor within him had refused to leave an avenue to continued existence to pass him by.  While Aidan might be able to accept his death with equanimity, it did not mean he would attempt to battle it as he made his own choices.

Aidan listened as the other introduced himself and spoke, his grey eyes taking in his rescuers build, stance and colouring.  Even when Amos finished speaking, Aidan paused, weighing the other’s words, deriving meaning and examining what was said.

”Do you consider servitude a fate worse than death? And was it chasing the ‘high’ which meant you fell into servitude?”

There was no judgement in Aidan’s tone, or much of anything.  The Warden was curious and was often direct, where perhaps others might flitter at the edges of a topic.

”I often heard talented players, mostly ignored by drunken Luperci in taverns when I was a loner.  It felt frivolous, but not unpleasant to hear.  Would you play something for me? A song you enjoy playing.” Aidan asked, curious to see what the bard would come up with.  Of course, perhaps the other may not agree, but in any case, Aidan would ask.

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