[RO] To wake. Time and again
ooc [+5480]
He woke up, a tiny pup, far, far from the Realm. There were no walls here to shield him, but nor was there need for them. The den was full of earthy scents and the giant snaking roots stretched from above and disappeared into the walls. Small, knowing no speech, High or Low outside of needy whines, he was not even used to opening his eyes yet. And so, not fully accustomed to seeing but drawn to the heat, he nuzzled towards the familiar body next to him until his wet nose touched the coarse pelt covering her. Mother was near and her body curled around him, then her warm tongue passed over his shivering body, calming and quieting him. Light streamed from the opening of their den, briefly obscured by shadows that had eyes directed straight at him. They were so large, and yet, they were not menacing. Though perhaps because he was cradled by his mother. Or because they kept their voices quiet, murmuring things he could not comprehend. They were peeking in from outside his world, small to a grown Soul, but enormous to the recently born creature he was at the time.

He woke up, a little child in the arms of his mother, carried outside the den into the enormity of the forest that lay beyond. Light shone through the canopy, spread out above like a mosaic of green leaves and the brightness in-between. Momentarily he hid his eyes from this brilliance against his mother’s fur. The shadows from before had faces, much like his mother’s, much like his would grow to become in time. They had recognizable features that his mind was beginning to take in. He still wasn’t sure what they were saying and hadn’t yet come to imitate even the basic words. They drifted among these Souls, these grown-ups, some of whom approached his mother and spoke something to her. When he once again revealed his orange eyes to these much bigger semblances of himself around him, one leaned over, examining him. He felt the breath from their nostrils on himself and let out a quiet whine, hoping to remain safe. The head of the stranger looking at him closely was so large it could probably split its maw open and swallow him whole. Instead it made some distance again and said words that the pup would eventually grow to understand. “Corice Songthorn, yours and Meric’s son shall be called Bellad.”

He woke up, a growing Bellad Songthorn. These days he ventured outside the den more often, and every time his world grew just a little larger. Higher than the roof of the den was the seemingly endless canopy. Even higher than that, higher than he could reasonably imagine, was the sky he could see from the clearings one could find in the forest of his birth. Further than the walls of the den was a labyrinthine colonnade of tree trunks. And further still stretched lands that seemed boundless, with mountains in the distance, and with the lake he was scared to come close to. What begun with a clumsy quadruped waddle was growing into something resembling the way the grown-ups walked when they were on all fours. He tried to do it like Ierian did, which at first often resulted in him sprawling out and struggling to pull his feet underneath him again and walk. He protested weakly whenever big brother or one of the other big wolves picked him up by his nape to set him upright. He could do it himself – they’d see!

This time he walked out on his own, and just in time. Mother was back from a hunt, carrying an animal that wasn’t a wolf over her shoulder. She was great and strong and warm. His father was proud of her, which he often told Bellad while she was out hunting. And whenever the boy missed her too much and sulked, his father’s voice would suddenly flow differently. Those times it had a melody to it, and a rhythm and he sang to him of the tribe’s heroes. After the kill was properly prepared, it was shared among the families. Bellad got a truly succulent bone, still stained in red viscera that he gnawed on, pinning it down with his front legs. That is until he felt someone tug it from him. It was another pup. How insolent! It was his bone! His mother gave it to him! He bit down and refused to let go, letting out what passed for a growl in his tender age while from the other end the other one proved just as persistent and loud. With a high-pitched bark Bellad felt the bone slip from his mouth and the dastardly thief ran off. The tiny black cub gave chase across the camp, yipping for the villain to come back. Until suddenly there was no longer ground underneath him – he was unceremoniously picked up. Elsewhere he could see his rival in the arms of his parents, though far happier with his share – he still had the bone. Bellad let out a meager growl that ceased only when his father gave him some of the meat from the hunt. This was tastier than the bone, but there would certainly come a day for justice.

He woke up, a young apprentice. The sun that’s been shining on his black pelt warmed him and lulled him into complacent slumber. He turned his head, still drowsy as sunlight dappled his fur. What he saw, however, made him spring right back to his feet. Break-time seemed to be over - the others were already all lined up as Elder Konjac approached. Myriad, no, he couldn’t be there to greet the Elder for their lesson later than Vetiver Willowcall was! Bad enough he constantly teased Bellad for how much he fancied the study of herbs with the Elders, more than their rougher games and more than trying to chase what tiny prey the young Luperci could safely hunt down on their own. If he overslept greeting their teacher, his rival’s array of jeers would only grow so much more robust. And so he made sure he was standing upright and dusted off by the time the Luperci spoke. “Children,” Konjac greeted, an old wolf. Bellad was sure Ierian would one day outgrow him. Veti, in turn, was sure that he himself would outgrow every elder, and Bellad, and Ierian, and even the best hunter Corice Songthorn herself. As if. “I trust you are ready and know what I shall ask of you?” They were not organized in their response, but unanimous in their agreement. They wouldn’t be there if they weren’t ready. Bellad certainly was.

“Don’t crowd now. I said no crowding, pups! If you want to get rowdy you can stay right here and play while the others seek and learn.” He only had one bunch of herbs for them to take a whiff of, and they, combined as they were, had a lot of eager sniffing noses, impatient and with nostrils flaring already. As if catching the smell of which herbs Konjac assembled for them this time could give them a leg up on the competition. Veti shoved Bellad aside, to which the Songthorn didn’t respond to avoid making it seem like they were one of those who’d stay behind. He knew he’d show him by proving smarter, way smarter than someone who’d be so easily provoked. When his turn finally came, he approached the Elder wolf and closed his eyes. He breathed in the scent and a mixture of herbal and floral scents hit him. Unraveling them was a challenge. How many were there? Half a dozen? He could recognize some. This one was that yellow moss he saw on a rock once for sure. That one was the tiny white flowers from the meadow. What was that other bitter one though? Some kind of root? It still had traces of soil on it, as did the Elder’s paws. Perhaps it could tell him where he’d dug it up if not the identity of the root itself.

“Catch you later, Songthorn!” Followed by a guffaw, much as a boisterous pup could make, and shuffling footfalls through the grass. Of course he just had to announce his departure. By the Myriad, that Veti, how infuriatingly distracting could he be? Where was he again? White flowers, yellow moss, weird root that smelled like dirt? Wait, did they all smell like dirt? Of course they did – they were in the same hands and these hands dug dirt. Focus now, focus. “You have until sundown! Return with whatever you find by then. And Myriad keep you safe.” Konjac had to be loud enough to be heard by everyone including the rapidly escaping Veti. Even though the pups, of course, already knew. Yes, they could bring whatever they would find. But it was one who brought a bunch of plants identical to the ones the Elder showed whose participation in the game would be deemed most successful. This wasn’t the first time, nor even the fifth or the tenth. “Well, young Songthorn?” He opened his eyes to find the Elder looking at him expectantly. Bellad responded with a sheepish smile at first. “O… of course, Elder Konjac. I just… Yes, but of course, just a moment.” He stepped away, unable to cheat the Elder for another whiff of the bunch of plants in his hands, and crouched down. He practiced this. As his father Meric Songthorn taught him, when looking for something it often paid to have one’s nose closer to the ground. It took him a bit for the change to weave its way through his small body, and by the end of it he shook as if to test the muscles under his black pelt. Then off he trotted, nose to the foliage. Until sundown, Konjac said, and the others had a head start in their game. Especially Veti, though knowing him he’d just trample right past the plants to chase a rabbit or something. Wait, could he trample the plants? Oh no. He had to hurry!

He woke up, a thoroughly soaked young Luperci coughing up water. His brother loomed over him, towering as an oak, tall as a mount although quite a ways wetter, not yet having shaken himself from the dive into the lake that stretched before them. Bellad rolled over and coughed, feeling a giant hand spread across much of his back. He sniffled, not so much from crying, but from having coughed out so much water, much of which went up his nose. “Are you alright, brother?” Ierian asked in his typical nurturing tone, with some degree of urgency. Even his father wasn’t quite this tender with him. Bellad wiped his muzzle with the back of his wrist. “Yeah… yeah, thank you… I am well.” His speech was, of course, interspersed with some more watery coughs that ragged his throat. “Myriad that was… Ugh.” An audible pat on his back coaxed more water from his lungs, not that there was much left. Ierian was mercifully careful so as not to pat Bellad down so hard that he’d sprawl down on the moistened grass. And he certainly could if he tried. “By the Myriad, why were you down there, Bellad? You could have drowned.” Ah yes, the question. Perhaps getting not to answer it was a good enough tradeoff to go right back to the lake and resume drowning. “You don’t have to answer if you don’t want to.” His older brother’s empathy was an outstanding thing, catching on to Bellad’s waterlogged embarrassment within the span of a few breaths. Ierian’s hand drew away from his back, at which point the younger Songthorn sat down and took a full breath if only to test that he was no longer coughing, then shook his head, showering droplets in every direction. When Ierian followed suit next to him, he ended up wet all over again, but he wouldn’t shake it off again or the two Songthorns would keep trading water all day.

“I wanted to get mother a water lily…” He finally said with a lingering pout after having sat next to his brother for a bit, tall as a hill compared to him. Both Songthorns’ eyes were trained on the surface of the lake, no longer disturbed by the Luperci splashing in the midst of it. Clear as a mirror again, with the occasional waterborne plant drifting across it together with the reflections of clouds up in the sky above them. Ierian was quiet for a bit, not really asking much, as if his silence could invite Bellad to speak more. As it soon did. “I mean, the Elders already gave her herbs. It is not as though I could bring any more… But I thought maybe getting a pretty flower would make her feel better…” More silence between the Songthorns, oblivious to the fate of their mother, yet both clearly worried. Corice Songthorn was strong. The strongest, perhaps. An unmatched hunter among the tribe. Seeing her bound to bed, sleeping as much as she was, made for a strange image, dreadfully contrasted to what they were used to seeing. Bellad would at first spend much time next to her bedding of dry grass and pelts, but eventually, more so when the Elders became involved in treating her illness, he was ushered away. Meric was allowed to stay, but said precious little. The elders did let Ierian in on more, but in some part Bellad was scared that a question would lead to an answer he wouldn’t like to hear. “Well…” Ierian’s voice snapped him out of reliving the image of their bedridden mother. “… Perhaps together we would fare better?” Bellad offered a smirk. “Thank you but no thank you. I have had enough of the lake to last me… Well a while.” A soft chuckle and a hand wrapped around his shoulder, then brought him close, pressing him against his brother’s moist side lightly. “Then let’s go find the prettiest flower in the meadows. It would surely look no worse than a lily from the very middle of the lake.” His wet pelt felt cold, but Bellad still felt a bit warmer, his smirk attaining a bit more humor to it. “Yeah… We may as well try.”

He woke up, a trainee being shaken awake, albeit courteously, by a member of his tribe. “Come, Bellad. It is your shift now.” Eyebright Seedtale was mercifully gifted in manners, even as her eyes seemed dim, whether from exhaustion or from the shadow of the tent that Bellad’s been resting in. “Myriad, I didn’t oversleep, did I?” To which his pack mate shook her head. “You are fine. Though I do hope you are rested well enough for our visitors.” The Songthorn stretched and rose from his bedding, having warmed it for Eyebright who lowered herself there, curling up. “Thank you, Eyebright. Rest well.” Satisfied with the sound of affirmative non-speech from his peer, he exited the tent. It was night time and what shreds of the sky could be seen through the canopy above glistened with stars. Asmin’s constellation was in zenith. There was a fire crackling in the middle of their camp, and its light carved shadows from the bodies lying on bedrolls surrounding it, many attended by kneeling figures. “Songthorn, come!” He heard the call of Elder Calypt. The older wolf waved him over to one of the patients. A female, smelling, as many Souls in their care often did, of elsewhere, as well as of blood and sickly sweet rot setting in. “Come-come. You can help clean her wounds.”

It was routine enough by now. His hands were steady and careful as he retrieved cloth from the water boiling by the fire and cleaned her wounds. “Give it to me straight, healer.” He heard the female raise her voice. “I… what do you mean? Give you what?” He asked, confused at the expression, but still making a point to pay attention. Perhaps she knew something of her injury that he didn’t? And whatever could be straightly given was something to alleviate her pain? The visitors often had strange manners to their High Speech. “Ugh, right, you people are… Anyway, how is it looking?” She didn’t sound delirious, and touching her forehead showed no signs of fever – just the warmth of the fire. “Well, you have wounds…” The eyes in which fire sparkled remained on him, but she did not mouth off to him for stating the obvious. “And… they have been unattended for a time, but now you are here, you will be safe. By our care and the Myriad’s.” The female sat up and the light of the fire illuminated more of her, uncovered, not wincing much even as she leaned on her scarred arms with a very slight hiss of breath. “You guys really don’t seem big enough to make for a Myriad… Where’s the rest hiding?” Bellad shook his head a bit. “Oh, no-no, the Myriad is, well, you see, all around us. It is in everything and in all. In this fire that keeps you warm. In this water we collected to clean your wounds and help them heal, rid them of harm. In every herb and berry we have collected. In every animal we hunt…” The stranger either wasn’t entirely convinced, or else felt primarily disinterested in the story, because she lowered herself back down. Her reaction somewhat doused his enthusiasm, so hoping the night would hide his embarrassment from the stranger he continued with the task at hand. At least this way he could continue to work on her wounds in relative peace. “Well, what else?” He heard her ask. “What else?” He must have been proving quite slow to her. Was it the brevity of his sleep, or the way she was silhouetted by the fire, and the way her laughter at his question rang out and she smiled at him from the ground. “What else does your tribe tell? You know, you have stories, right?” They had plenty of stories, and even while busy with the stranger’s injuries, he told her some in a hushed tone just above the crackling of the fire.

Weeks later the fire was burning bright again. There was song to the drumming rhythms from Elder Thist and whenever Meric Songthorn wasn’t busy raising his voice in ballads and rhymes, his mate Corice would have him sweep her into a dance. The two of them leapt through the fire, towering, spiraling sparks up to the sky like the tongue of a fire-breathing beast, etched into the night with the bright oranges. His heart clenched for some reason whenever he saw them soar against it to the cheering of the crowd. Ierian and young Eyebright joined in, their laughter filling the forest together with the tribe’s songs. He was content to keep watching, even as the fire felt strangely intimidating, more so, as he vaguely recalled, than it was meant to be. A pat on his shoulder stopped this fearful contemplation of the primal element. The visiting woman was feeling much better by then, and she asked him for a dance with a toothy grin. The way she moved as soon as he was upright and absorbed into the rhythm, he very nearly felt she’d wring out his arm at some point. Yet the way she moved was captivating, infectious. The surrounding scenery blended into a rush of color, sound, smell of cooking food, of heady drink and campfire smoke. For this night they celebrated. By the Myriad what a long-awaited delight it had been.

He woke up, a young wolf who remembered a night of confusing passion that had subsumed him earlier. He remembered those clumsy, eager touches, the rush and then the conversation that followed after. “Come with me,” she had offered. “Come on, you can see something beyond your tribe’s land. You guys believe in this “Myriad”, right? Do you really think you’ve seen enough of it here?” He didn’t think so, seriously considering her question even with the jokes and teasing from the day before. He also didn’t think he should have left the lands of the tribe and told her as much. She seemed mildly disappointed, despite telling him she got it and laying back into his embrace under the stars. Yet now, his arms were empty. She was gone like the wind. He looked around, even sniffed around to try and catch her scent, but she was nowhere to be found, as though she’d taken some effort to hide her tracks. He knew this was as it should have been. Visitors came, some lingered, and some left their stories or even progeny. He knew those of his tribe dubbed Giftbloom were such children. Those with outsider blood, yet welcomed all the same. He knew that to leave was every visitor’s uncontested freedom. Hers as well, as it should have been. Though not as it might have been. He knew there was little point lingering on these thoughts now that she was gone, for reasons known only to the woman herself. “Myriad keep her safe…” He murmured, then he took what little warmth lingered and what dozens of doubts grew in his mind despite his enlightened understanding of their futility and made his way back to the camp alone. 

He woke up, a man weighted down by responsibilities. He was not at all surprised to find his parents and Ierian all gone to attend council with the Elders. Those that guided the tribe’s decisions seemed to hold him at arms’ length recently. Him and most of his generation for that matter. The pups he could understand – little Anise, the sickly Geran, Hollyhock who’d just recently learned to properly walk in Optime and Burdock who kept mixing up herbs and which ones were meant to be eaten and which ones could at best be thoroughly brewed. But him? Eyebright? Even Veti? The learned and the capable - why keep them to menial tasks, when they were fully grown and eager to help the tribe any way they could? Or did they really think that just by giving them busywork they would keep the younger in the dark regarding shortages of useful supplies? Of game and medicinal plants alike? He made the rounds among the visitors they had in their care at the time, applied fresh bandages, gave those that needed it food and water, answered a few questions here and there, administered what herbs they could spare. There weren’t many. There wouldn’t be for a time if the rumors of distant fires were to be believed.

“Bellad, come.” Elder Konjac didn’t expound on the reason for the call, but Bellad had been idle long enough. This call had the chance to open into something else. Something more useful, and he was being chosen for it. He rose, walked past all these familiar faces. Eyebright’s eyes followed him, her hands resting on her swelling belly. Veti graced Bellad with a nod then returned to hauling the rough cloth bags that were part of their food storage. Finally he stood before the Elders, his brother Ierian present as well, his father too. His mother was out hunting. “You called for me?” Bellad stated the obvious, trying to sound respectful despite the impatience eating at him. “Yes. It is your task to go into the forest, deep as you can towards the valley. You are to gather what herbs you can find.” Bellad couldn’t help but frown. “I have already gone there! There is nothing left to gather in that direction and you know it well!” The gaze that answered his indignant tone was far more searing than his frown. “You will search again! None of the others are as gifted in the finding of appropriate plants, and it is your task to put this skill to use!” Well, at least his skill was recognized, which was a small comfort. He could have gone elsewhere though, could survey where others have not gone. Gone to the places deemed dangerous. He could have ventured towards the cliffs or even to the treacherous ravines instead of taking a beaten path. “Bellad…” His father’s voice was gentle and melodious as he rested his hand on Bellad’s arm, his muzzle tinged with the silvery marks of his age, his gentle eyes reassuring but firm. “Please. You know it is what you do best.” He did not wish to beat his son down for talking back to the Elders, but in his own way he directed his son’s energy. Bellad sighed – one last display of defiance before he inevitably agreed to the task. His sense of duty always won out where it came to forcing his way. “Very well, I will go. Bring whatever I can… How long until we depart?” Much as he was pushing his luck, he would not get a better chance to find out. “Soon, and perhaps sooner if you are successful. Myriad keep you safe.” The younger Songthorn nodded. “You as well. All of you.”

The seemingly fruitless search drew a frustrated sigh from him. He was far now, perhaps a solid hour of walking from camp. He combed every bush and every bit of undergrowth in his path. The area had been largely picked clean, much of it by his own hands at that. Another sweep – they were wasting him on just another sweep. Myriad, even staying behind to help their visitors and nurture them to health till they could at least travel with the camp for the move would have served them better than this pointless departure. But to come back empty-handed, now that would make it a true waste. One he would rather not allow even to stick it to the Elders. Getting a smug ‘I told you so’ was more Veti’s speed. And even Veti’s grown some dignity befitting of his age by this time. Was Bellad really going to be as petty as his rival was in their youth? No, not at all. He would keep his eyes sharp and to the best of his ability he would sniff out whatever remained. To his credit, he did find at least something. An excuse if nothing else, those meager bunches of flowers, tiny saplings that in better days they would have left in order to let them grow and serve the tribe better in the future. Perhaps they’d plant them elsewhere once the danger has passed. With how carefully he’d been following his nose, it was little wonder he caught the smell of strangers before he ever saw them. There were three, two of them walking, the other far closer to dangling between them. Like visitors tended to, they smelled of elsewhere.

“You there!” One of them called out. “You from around here? We heard there’s a tribe in this forest. Healers. Our friend here’s unwell…” This much Bellad could see. They were wearing clothes, heavily clad like many visitors were, many layers above their pelts. He was meant to have seen their faces, and yet for some reason, they would appear muddled to him. As if all he saw were the mouths. The teeth. Back at camp there were already visitors. Visitors who were slowing them down and drawing on their already dwindling supplies. He did not hold it against them – he could not. But could he allow a further burden on his tribe? The words that came out of his mouth came before he actually made a decision. “You heard correctly, stranger… Need I look at your friend?” He had little to offer, save for what trifle supplies he’d collected so far, but if their need was great enough, then perhaps it was best if he examined the wounded first? “We’ll be fine, we just gotta reach camp. Come on, you must know where it is.” He paused, hesitant, but the moment he told them they were in the right forest he bound himself to tell them the rest, did he not? “You are on the right path. Should you keep heading there, you will find them soon. Myriad keep you and your friend safe.” The teeth formed smiles, was this relief? Or was this satisfaction? “Oh good, great. Yeah, we’ll do that. You just keep… doing whatever it is you’re doing.” And he left them behind. He had much work to do, only to return and most likely perform other tasks. Perhaps one of them would even be to treat the same wounded Luperci he just sent off with his friends. They would surely be settled with the rest by the time he returned.

He spent another two hours of diligent but mostly fruitless scavenging, his pace slowed to a crawl to make sure he truly missed nothing. Past that, before long he finally headed back. It took him less than half of the path back to feel a menacing scent in the air. Smoke. He forgot much of the rest of the journey there, the way his feet carried him, the way he leapt over roots he’s grown familiar with over the years, skidded down slopes, caught his balance and ran on, ragged pants drawn from his throat. The heat of his own blood from the run obscured the growing heat around him, but he did not confuse the sight of distant flames for anything else. He was within howling distance. Someone had to hear him from there. The sound resonated from him, loud, piercing, a call that demanded answer. There was none. He had to get closer perhaps. The heat, this terrible heat. Another howl. No answer. Wood crackling and smoking nearby. He was close enough for embers to carry his way. The smell started to overpower him. He did not look around, only ahead, trying to gauge how close the fire was. He thought it still far enough for him to draw closer.

He thought wrong.

There was a cracking sound above, and a large branch, smoldering, burning, dropped right behind him. He leapt away from it and into the heat that washed over him. Around the fallen branch, the undergrowth quickly caught fire, little tongues of flame lapping at them. Tiny at first, but growing larger, hungrily crawling up trees, rising to a roar. He tried to howl again and the acrid smoke writhed into his throat. No howl – just a raspy mockery of one, his own voice betraying him, his eyes watering. Within a blink he was surrounded, whipped around to find the flames everywhere. But amidst this fire, did he just hear a howl? That must have been a howl. Someone must have responded. Where from? Which direction? Everywhere burned, but if he rushed in then surely he could reach them, surely. The Elders were wise, the Myriad was fair. They had to be there and he had to join them so they could be safe. Together. Another crack, louder now. A burning tree toppled to the side and barred his way. He cried out, coughed from the smoke and then at last he broke into a run. Not towards the howl. Elsewhere. Anywhere that wasn’t here. That wasn’t hot, that wasn’t full of stinging smoke and violently blazing left and right. He tried to shield his eyes from the smoke. He felt something almost like a bite on his left shoulder. He felt a smell much like burning meat. His own pelt was smoldering.

No, Myriad, please, no.

He woke up, a scarred healer in bed in a distant Realm. In waking, he gasped and looked around the room. Unfamiliar. Not like home. Walls. There didn’t use to be walls like these. This was elsewhere. He was elsewhere. Was there fire? No, none, even their fireplace had only weak embers. He panted, eyes wide, face still feeling baked with heat. He was alone here. Ierian was elsewhere, his bed empty. Perhaps gone to Saga’s kids. Perhaps elsewhere. Perhaps…

He felt moisture on his eyes, like they’d watered from the smoke that was left in the nightmare. Slowly he brought his hands around himself, wrapped himself in his own hold. His left palm passed over the coarse fur of his shoulder. His right found the settled, scarred flesh of his burn. He tightened his hold as though to confirm he was all there, and in this grip felt himself start to shake. Claws dug into his arms, then, the shakes growing worse, releasing himself from his grip he moved his hands to his eyes. Sitting in his bed in New Caledonia, alone in their room save for the nightmare in which not a single decision could have been amended from those he was responsible for, he shielded his face and wept.

“Brother… Oh Myriad, forgive me…”

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To wake. Time and again - by Bellad Songthorn - 4 January 2021, 05:26 AM

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