[AW] Everyone gets scared.
#1
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  Out of Character

Word Count: 386


  In Character
The winter had set in and he was spending a lot more time indoors than he used to during the warmer months. He longed for the summer days when he could spend all day outside and barely make it home before the sun began to rise. Sleeping little and running around most of his days; this was his preferred method. Yet, like a bear, he found himself more often sleeping than he had during the warmer months. Resting up and letting the cold pass him by outside. There wasn't as much to do and everything expended so much more energy because his body was working overtime to heat him and just keep him going from the weather itself. He still made a point to visit Carya and others that were important to him, but there was little desire to go out and do more. Certainly he hadn't left the pack's area in a long while.


Today he was out and about with his faithful cat companion, Arthur, trailing after him. The mustached feline seemed as ill suited to the snow as Lochlan himself, with his dark coat marked only slightly be white. It stood out like a blot of ink across a white page, marking him against the world around him that seemed to have faded in colors. Though he had proven himself an apt enough hunter when it came to small game, Loch had found. In fact, it was possible that the cat was better at hunting small woodland game than the wolf was. They had no particular aim in mind, though they were near to Jordheim. A cloak was wrapped around the bipedal wolf who was also using a long branch to prod at the ground in front of him before stepping. After falling in a snowdrift once, he had become more careful about trusting the layout of the ground in front of him.


"I cannot wait until it warms up enough again for proper fishing." he mused aloud. The cat flicked its ears at him but didn't even look in his direction. Lochlan took this as agreement and kept walking forward. Considering what he could do today that would be helpful to himself and/or the pack. He had already patrolled once mid-morning and it was now early afternoon. Should he do it again?


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#2
OOC: hi! Sorry for rambling. Lots of stuff to sort out in Aspen's head right now. xD [540]

IC: With her wounds healed, though the scars on her chest were fresh and bright, Aspen was allowed to start working again. Since she had accidentally pulled the stitches out of her wrists, her healing process had slowed, but now she was able to ease back into it. She was glad because it gave her something to think about other than how much she wanted to hide in her house, and what could happen if she didn’t. It also made her feel like she was able to prove that her promotion to Starfa was a good idea.

She knew she would need to leave the pack lands again; there were animals that she planned to bleed with Inferni’s stock, but right now the thought of leaving terrified her. She certainly would not be going alone again. Just the thought made her feel ill. Even just spending time back in her Optime form made her nervous since she had been captured and felt so helpless in it. Since returning, she had only shifted a couple of times, and each was short.

Today, though, she was in Lupus. Aspen did not feel like pushing herself too much and since she did not need it to carry a feed bucket around to the chickens, she decided not to assume her two-legged form. The skin around her new scars on her wrists and chest was still tight, so she walked slow through Jordheim on her way to head out to the barn. Aspen was sure that she would not open them again since the stitches were gone on purpose now, but it was simply more comfortable.

Her ears twitched with the different sounds around her, and she wished her giant cat Major had decided he would come with her, but then again maybe it was a good thing in case he suddenly decided the chickens would make a good meal. So far, he had stuck to her rules: the livestock was not his to eat unless she brought it to him, and she wanted to keep it that way. At the same time, she missed the security she felt when he was around. The Starfa was not sure why he made her feel secure; maybe it was because he was such a large cat: half her size in her lupus form.

As she continued, a voice drew Aspen’s attention, bringing her steps to a halt. It was male, which caused her ears to dip backwards and she lowered her head while her blue eyes searched for the source. She spotted him up ahead, recognized him as Lochlan, and relaxed a little bit. He had been kind to her, but she did not know him too well, so she was still anxious. Still, she did not want to be rude, and with the wind coming from behind her, she did not think she should just walk off without saying anything. Besides, she needed to continue that way to go care for the chickens.

“H-hi, Lochlan,” she said in a small voice as she got closer to him. Her head was still low, but she tried to offer him a smile and keep her nervousness, which edged towards fear, off her face. "Um, how are you doing?"
#3
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  Out of Character

Word Count: 541


I liked delving into Aspen's head, heh. Thanks for joining. :D


  In Character
At least he had improved his hunting somewhat because it was something he had to do in order to eat properly during the winter. He wasn't a mooch and his dried fish would only last so long. In fact, his supply was already waning and the winter was only halfway done. Next year he would have to save even more. It was difficult, though, when a fresh fish sat before him to not just gobble it right up. His mouth salivated at the memory of the fishy taste, fresh and fragrant. Lochlan sighed wistfully. The months seemed so long, although the days were short. It would come before he knew it, but he wished it would come faster. Just like it felt as if the summer would speed by once it was there, spiraling back into fall and winter before he could truly appreciate its sunshine. He would just have to make a point to appreciate it better than he had the year before. He would remember this winter better than the last one, since he had been so young when he last faced winter. Now he knew what the options were and summer was much better.


A scent caught in his nostrils and he turned toward it automatically. There was a flicker of familiarity... Aspen, that was who that smell was. Sure enough, she came within his view not long thereafter. It had been a long time since he saw Aspen. The marks on her body that were healing made his jaw tighten slightly. It was a reminder of how Vinatta could not always protect its inhabitants, no matter how hard the wolves of the pack strove to make it safe. He felt helpless, sometimes, when it came to these situations which seemed all too frequent lately. What else could they do beyond furthering patrols and going over the safety measures to keep their packmates in safety at all times? It wasn't as if they could wrap the membership in cocoons and protect them from everything, but he wished there was something more he could do. His jaw relaxed after a moment, his lips curving in an encouraging smile. It was obvious that she was nervous. The last thing he wanted to do was to make any gesture that would further that ill ease.


Arthur seemed to ignore the other Vinattan entirely, moving toward a tree and leaning up to scratch it. Of course that was normal for a cat. They were always sharpening their claws and generally only paid attention to a wolf when they wanted something. Chicken feed was not going to attract the cat's attention away from other "more important" things like wandering around. "Hey, Aspen. Long time no see." Lochlan said after glancing at Arthur. He wagged his tail lightly in a friendly way. "I was considering going to wander the borders again on a patrol, but really I was just trying to get out of the house. I spend way too much time inside when it's wintertime, I'm far more of a summertime creature by nature." he chuckled at this. Most wolves probably had a preferred season more similar to his. "What're you up to?" he asked in turn, wondering if he could help somehow.


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#4
Relax, Aspen told herself. It is just Lochlan, part of the reason she had joined Vinatta in the first place. He, of all canines, should be trustworthy, but the way his jaw tightened and the expression on his face changed, she wanted to step back. Then his look changed again, so she offered him a small smile and glanced towards the border when he said he was thinking of doing another patrol. She tended to avoid the borders now as much as she could, and she had not left the pack since her ordeal. Aspen knew she would probably have to do so at some point, to visit Inferni for the breeding program she was setting up with Ombre, but for now, she would remain safely here.

"Summer is nice," she agreed with him trying to relax further, "I think, um, I think I like autumn best." It was cool, but not too cold, and the trees were pretty. The leaves started to stink after a while from rotting on the ground, but by then it was about time to snow anyway. She did not think she spent any more time indoors during one season than another, although if anything, she spent more time inside during the summer because of rain storms. She always did that anyway, even when she lived in a den. No matter the season, though, she had to go outside to take care of the livestock. Speaking of livestock...

"Oh, um, I was just heading to feed the chickens," Aspen told him, edging that way. She did not really want to keep him if he needed to be patrolling the borders, but since he had said he was really just trying to get out of the house, Aspen figured she could at least offer a different option to him, "would you um, would you like to come with me?" Feeding the chickens was not particularly exciting and they kind of smelled bad, but it was a chore that needed to be done, and it was an easy one for her to do. "Y-you don't have to, of course, if you don't want to."

As she took a couple more steps in the direction of the barn the chickens lived near, Aspen noticed the stick Lochlan was holding, and she could not help but ask curiously, "What is the stick for?" She supposed it could be used for self defense; he had said he was going to the border, after all, but it looked a little too thin for that.

[423]
#5
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  Out of Character

Word Count: 418


  In Character
His anger was not directed at her, it was more for her, but he knew it was misplaced to show it right now. Especially after what had happened, the last thing she needed was to deal with a male who seemed to have strong negative emotions. Carefully, he held it deeper until he could practice some hand-to-hand combat moves on his own. That would be a better time to burn off the energy that was surging through him at the thought of the pain she had experienced. At his failure, once again, to keep a friend safe from danger.


When she said that she liked autumn best, he nodded. "Autumn is nice, too. With the leaves falling and all of the world preparing for winter to come next. Plus, there tend to be a lot of festivals around that time." he said. Although they tended to have those throughout the year, he felt a bigger impression for the ones that came in autumn. Perhaps because it was when they had the Cavaliers and Artisans visit. At least, it had been tucked up toward the end of summer/beginning of autumn time frame. Besides, it was still warm in autumn. At least, warm enough with his fur coat.


She explained what she was doing and continued walking in that direction. Feed the chickens? That sounded... livestocky. He had never been great at caring for livestock animals, but he had never really tried either. It was something Joon and Jin did much better, which was why he left it to them. Still, the idea of spending time with Aspen which he hadn't done in a while appealed to him. Besides, it was something different and he didn't have a much better option presenting itself. "I'd be more than happy to help! I haven't ever done much with chickens. Do you like caring for the animals, then?" despite their previous time together, he had never learned as much as he had hoped to learn about her. Now was a good time for that.


When she started to walk, he followed casually at her side. Loch laughed sheepishly at her question about the stick. "I use it on unfamiliar parts of the territory to check for snowdrifts. I fell into one and really don't want to try that again, especially if there is loose ground underneath it. I have a bad habit of falling in holes and I am trying to break it. Last time, I hit my head pretty hard." he replied.


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#6
"Okay," Aspen smiled, and adjusted her steps to head towards the barn. "Yes, um, the chickens are easy. Just have to put out feed and collect any eggs we find," she said, shrugging her shoulders, a gesture from her two-legged form that had carried back to her Lupus one. The chickens generally did not mind when she was around; they were more interested in the feed she was leaving them that anything else. "The um, the other ones can be a bit more difficult, especially the new cows, but they’re okay once they’ve been fed." Basically, all the cows except her own were a bit impatient and insistent, but they were not aggressive. She guessed Lilac would be like that as well, except it seemed as though she had been abused before Aspen traded for her. The other animals seemed to be fitting in well, and after they were fed, the cows were perfectly nice, too.

The wolfdog looked at the stick again when Lochlan explained what it was for and winced when he mentioned hitting his head. "Oh, th-that's a good idea, then," she commented. “Maybe I should do that.” Aspen generally stuck to the trails that were already broken to the barn and other places, but she thought it would make sense to carry a stick if she was doing something else, although she usually stuck to her Lupus form then. But if she did not, she tended to have a clumsy streak to her. Falling into a snowdrift was something she would do.

"Have you done anything with any of the other livestock?" Aspen asked, suddenly feeling like she and talked to him about this before, when they first met outside of the Vinatta pack lands. She did remember asking about sheep since she liked herding them and was looking for a way that she would be able to help out right away if she decided to join, but she could not remember asking about anything else. It was a long time ago, after all. At the time, the livestock herds were much fewer in number, too, since they had not yet gotten the animals from New dawn.

The trip to the barn went fairly quickly and Aspen looked into the area that they chickens usually stayed. While they could easily fly through or over the fence and get away, they generally stuck right around the barn because it was warm, and it was where they were fed. Why go somewhere else when they could be warm, safe, and full right here? They were scratching around and pecking as usual, so Aspen turned to head into the barn where their feed was kept.

[446]
#7
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  Out of Character

Word Count: 512


  In Character
"Sounds easy enough." he replied, wagging his tail. Of course he wasn't belittling the task, he just hadn't been aware of the simplicity that came with chicken care. It took time and effort, but there wasn't too much that really had to be done for it. Collect the eggs, spread their food. He could easily help with that. Especially when compared with the cows, apparently. "We have new cows? I am behind the times on our livestock." he said, feeling a bit embarrassed at his lack of knowledge. Then again, he was not aiming for a tier that had anything at all to do with livestock. Nor did he have close family or friends who interacted regularly with them. Maybe Carrie did, but he didn't recall her ever mentioning new bovines to him. Then again, he had never asked either. It didn't really interest him all that much except when it mattered as a part of conversation. Well, this was how he learned, so it was good to know.


He smiled when she said it was a good idea to test the snow in front of him before walking into it. "Yeah, especially since Arthur likes to mislead me by walking across it so easily, then my heavier weight crushes it in and I fall." he said with a small laugh, looking over to the kitten who was walking delicately across the snow beside the pair of wolves. The cat looked over at them at the mention of his name, then resumed what it had been doing originally. "I'd be more than happy to find a stick that would work for you! Do you know what your height is when you are in Optime?" he inquired in return. That would help him make sure he found one that was the right length or that he could get down to the right length.


As to her question about the livestock, he considered what he had done with the livestock before. He had gone over there to see animals and he had interacted with various equines. "I go visit Jin and Joon sometimes, hang out with the sheep. Not much else, though, to be honest. I spend a lot more time on the borders patrolling or outside of the pack." he replied. It wasn't really shameful, everyone had their own path. Still, it didn't mean he shouldn't correct his blind spot in the area of their livestock.


Lochlan followed Aspen as they came into the area, figuring she would lead to wherever the food was and he could help scatter it. In his form, it would also be much easier to pick up the eggs than in hers. He wondered how she had been planning to do it without him, but didn't want to be rude and ask. Presumably she had some way to do it or she would have shifted, possibly. Though he figured she was in Lupus for a reason. Again, he couldn't ask without being rude, so he just wondered and followed his companon to the barn to help gather feed.


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#8
OOC: okay, I gotta ask: wtf IS that scribble in your title? XD [610]

IC:
“Yes, um, New Dawn brought them to us after Sangi’lak disbanded,” Aspen nodded. Along with Jin and Joon, she had gone to help them herd the cows and pigs to Vinatta. She had been very nervous, especially because their Alpha had been along on the trip, but things seemed to have gone well. The animals all made it and had settled in nicely so far, at least as far as Aspen could tell. She did wish she was able to speak to them, though, to ask them what they thought of their home and if they needed something the Starfas were not providing. They seemed happy, though.

Aspen looked over at the cat when Lochlan did and nodded. That was understandable; she was sure her own cat, Major could cross the snow much more easily than she could, even though he weighed about half as much as she did while in this form. He was a large cat, but still lighter than her. He had large paws, too, which she was sure helped.

“Um,” Aspen glanced up at Lochlan, trying to guess at how tall she was compared to him. She did not think she had ever been around him in her Optime form. “Well, um, I’m pretty short. Maybe up to your shoulder?” It was just a guess. Aspen was not particularly good at guessing distances like that, especially since she had been spending so little time in her two-legged form lately. Eventually, she supposed she would start again, but for right now, she felt much more secure on four legs.

“I think I have smelled your scent around the sheep before,” Aspen commented. While she had not seen him, she knew that he and other pack members at least came to see the sheep and their horses, even when she did not actually see them doing so. She was always willing to help take care of other member’s horses, but she also loved when they came to see their companions as well, and they often did. “And that’s okay um, I do not really ever patrol, so, um, I guess that makes it even?” There would be little use in her patrolling because she would be unable to defend the border from most of the canines that would try to trespass. Maybe some coyotes she could fend off, like the one that had attacked Major, although that one was not at the border. Otherwise, she would be relatively useless, except that she would be adding another scent to the border.

“Um we keep their feed in here,” she said, heading into the barn. In a store room, there was a wooden bin with food in it, and next to it was a bucket that had already been filled. “Oh, um, it looks like Joon got it ready for me.” He did that sometimes, especially lately since she was coming around on four legs so often. Aspen lowered her head to pick up the handle of the bucket in her mouth and then walked out a different door that lead to where the chickens were. Once outside, she set down the bucket and looked up at Lochlan with her ears tucked back.

“Usually I would just um, dump it and scatter it with my paws, but um, if you want, you can take hand fulls and spread it around.” The chickens would eat the feed whether it was in one big pile or scattered around, and they were already starting to gather around the bucket. Aspen swiped her paw gently at a couple of particularly impatient ones to get them to back off. She was not interested in being pecked.
#9
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  Out of Character

Word Count: 561


The Legend of the Scribble! I had to look it up myself when it popped up in my title. XD

  In Character
When she explained where the cows had come from, Loch wasn't overly surprised. He had been aware that some things were obtained as a part of the dissolution of Sangi'lak. Whatever had happened to them, they had left behind many treasures that were then utilized by the packs around. Now there was pretty much nothing left to show the Nomads had been there at all. "Did they settle in well with the herd?" he asked curiously. He wasn't really familiar with the habits of cows, but he knew some groups could be aggressive toward newcomers. Presumably they were doing well enough now, it sounded like they were being maintained healthily by the livestock caregivers. Jin and Joon would have made sure of it.


The estimate that Aspen gave would be enough for Lochlan to get started on something for her, anyway. "I'll look for a stick that will work for you, then." he replied with a nod. Already thinking of the areas most likely to have a branch of the appropriate length and strength. It wouldn't take too long, he didn't think. There were plenty that had fallen in the snows and were still lying around waiting to be utilized either as firewood or for something like this. He felt good, too, that he could help Aspen in some way. Even if it wouldn't fix everything for her, it could make things just a bit better.


Aspen made a good point about the evenness of duties. It wasn't as if Starfa came to patrol the borders or the Eljun spent a lot of time tending to the lambs in the summertime. "I suppose we can't all know everything. Otherwise, why would we even have tiers at all?" he replied, a hint of gratitude to his tone. The guilt he layered on himself for not knowing everything about very aspect of his pack was ill-placed. There was nothing wrong with knowing mostly about his own place and what he did here in the pack. That was his job as a Hollr aspiring to be an Araedi. To learn the tricks of his trade, not of all trades.


The smell of the feed barn was very much that of the farm area. Food for the prey creatures that they had domesticated and cared for on a regular basis. It made his mouth feel dry to think of eating this all the time. None of the moisture or sweetness of meat. That would be horrible. Although berries and some other foods were fun to eat at times, he was a carnivore primarily. That was how they were metabolically built. He listened as Aspen explained where the food was and that Joon had prepared it for her. She easily picked up the bucket, clearly a pro at doing this in her Lupus form.


When she set down the bucket and explained what she was going to do, he nodded. Leaning down to pick up handfuls and spread them around as best he could. "Geez, do they always act like they are starving to death?" he asked, lightly moving his foot toward a gaggle of chickens to encourage them to move away from him. They crowded around, seeking the food with the avid interest of a starving flock. He figured they weren't, given the care of Joon, Jin and Aspen, but they sure acted like it!


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#10
OOC: Ahaha that's awesome! XD [522] also I can't figure out why but my bbcode isn't rendering, although I used the menu button to place the bold text. O.o

IC:
“They have, since um, we only had one cow before, it was not too difficult,” Aspen replied. It was her own cow that was there before, and she seemed happy with her new company. It helped that she was not aggressive, so there was no conflict that Aspen had seen, other than them being pushy when it was feeding time, or when Aspen was bringing treats for Lilac. “The rest of the animals seem happy, too,” she added.

Aspen nodded when Lochlan said he would find her a stick. “Th-hanks,” she said. Although she was not sure how often she would end up using it, it would be good to have just in case she was going to head out somewhere off the paths that had already been made in the snow. The Starfa also was not sure how to turn down a pack mate’s kindness.

“Yes they do,” Aspen said with a light laugh. “I do not know why, but they are even like this in the summer, too, when there are bugs and stuff for them to eat.” She thought maybe they just liked the schedule of feeding time and were excited for that, but she was not sure. Aspen tipped the bucket on its side, stepping around it to shoo some of the chickens away again before digging at the pile with her front paw to start scattering it. Much of the feed was still in the bucket, so she dug it out.

“Ow, stop it,” she mumbled when one of the hens pecked at her paw in her impatience to get at the feed. At least with them distracted, it would be easier to find the eggs. After a few moments more of scattering the pils of feed, Aspen dipped her head to take the handle of the bucket in her teeth again and stepped back from the chickens who quickly filled in the space she had taken up. Shaking her head, Aspen walked the bucket back towards the barn and set it down for a moment.

“Um, they lay eggs in and around the barn here, so if we find around fifteen or so, we should be good.” Not all the eggs they did not find would hatch anyway, so that was usually enough. “We can um, put them in the bucket,” she tipped her head down, indicating the bucket that held the feed. She found it easiest to just reuse the bucket. With that, Aspen began sniffing around in the hay just inside the barn, searching for some of the eggs she knew would be there. They seemed to often use the same nests to lay eggs. “Found one,” she said quietly and dipped her head to gently pick up the egg in her mouth. When she first started, she broke quite a few before learning the amount of pressure she could put on them. She went back over to the bucket and gently placed it in the bottom; her head just barely fit far enough into the bucket that she did not drop the egg. With that done, she started searching for the next one.
#11
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  Out of Character

Word Count: 511


Hmm, that is weird! @_@


  In Character
He hadn't known if they had a cow, two cows, a whole herd of cows... wow, he was really out of it when it came to the livestock. Though he wasn't sure why he would need that information, either. The boy planned to be a guardian, not an animal caretaker. It didn't stave off the silent guilt he felt for some reason that he hadn't known, but it faded after a while. No reason to dwell upon it. "Well I am glad they are all happy. It'd suck to have to deal with upset animals. Is that something that Jin and Joon teach about, though? Err, or that you already know about?" he wasn't trying to offend by indicating that she might not have that knowledge herself. Jin and Joon were just the most experienced animal handlers that he knew.


Loch wagged his tail and nodded in response to her stammered appreciation at his offer to find the stick and make sure it was the right size for her. "It's my pleasure. Always happy to help out a packmate and friend." he replied. It was true; he actually found more pleasure in doing things for others than he did in doing things for himself most times. Not that he didn't enjoy doing things for himself, too. There was just a difference when he did it for others that made his heart feel light.


Dealing with such needy creatures all of the time made him all the more impressed with Aspen's patience. They would have driven him crazy. Though he did want to have children someday, he hoped they would not be like this. Constantly crowding around cheeping for food as if their little lives were about to end from starvation. He scattered seed and laughed as the chickens went to eat it, avidly pecking away. "I wonder if they would just keep eating and eating if you kept feeding them, even once they were stuffed to the brim." he mused, uncertain of how intelligent they were. Would they eat until they literally burst?


When the feed he was scattering was gone, he looked up to see Aspen headed to a different area. He followed her and listened to her directions. Nodding to show he understood, though he had never gathered eggs before and wondered if he would even know properly where to look. It was probably pretty simple, though, right? Birds were birds, they put hay around their eggs or something to keep them warm when they were off of the roost. Lochlan looked around for a while and heard Aspen say she found one right before he spotted one himself. Carefully, he picked it up and cradled it in his hand. He walked back with the greatest of care, making sure he didn't drop or wobble it so that it would crack. He was probably way too careful, but he'd rather do that than to damage one of the precious eggs.


Once that one was settled down next to the one Aspen had gathered, he resumed the search for more.


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#12
“Both,” Aspen responded, “Um, I knew more about handling unhappy sheep, and um, they taught me more,” she explained. Some of it felt like instinct to her, and she knew that somewhere in her ancestry there was a large herding breed of dog. However, a lot of it was learned as well. It also helped that she and the dingo brothers wanted to make the animals happy, and weren’t just doing it because they had to. This helped with all of the animal care, really, because Aspen knew they picked up on moods based on body language just as wolves did. Major could tell when she was upset, and the other animals also would also react differently to her based on what she was feeling. Being happy to see them seemed to help some of them be at ease.

Aspen wasn’t sure how much of a difference it made with the chickens, though, since they seemed to be single-minded with their food. Aspen paused at Lochlan’s question, considering it with a quiet giggle. The idea of them eating until they were fat and round was amusing. “Well um, I don’t know, but it’s kind of funny to think about. My guess is that um, that they would stop eventually. Maybe get bored.” Maybe they would get tired of the taste of the feed or something, although they ate it every day anyway, and more of it during the cold months now than during the warmer months when they could also eat bugs.

Watching as Lochlan carefully set the egg in the bucket, Aspen wondered if she should tell him that they were fragile, but not quite that fragile. She had broken many, but she could also easily pick them up in her mouth now without cracking them. At the same time, Aspen didn’t want to somehow make him feel foolish, so instead she chose to say nothing about it and continued gathering eggs while keeping track of how many she found in her head.

“Um, how many have you found?” Aspen asked after a little while. There were enough in the bucket that she couldn’t count them all, and she hoped that he had kept track, or at least had a general idea. “Because um, it looks like we may have found enough of them.” Some that they didn’t find would eventually hatch, but this helped them from having way too many chickens.
#13
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  Out of Character

Word Count: 404


  In Character
Luckily, Aspen was not the sort to take offense from what Lochlan had seen. If anything, it seemed to him that she was more likely to take even intended insults in stride. Perhaps he misjudged her, but certainly her behavior as of late leaned toward the yielding sort. Though she was capable, too. There was nothing wrong with being flexible and working well with others. He hoped she was not overly deferential when she shouldn't be, but he had never noticed that one way or the other. In their pack, though, there was no need to even be particularly subservient toward anyone; the pack was family. There was respect, of course, and positions of authority that had to be regarded with the proper amount of reverence. No one lorded their position over anyone, though. That wasn't Vinatta's style. "I'm glad that they have you around to help, I am sure they appreciate it too." he replied with a wag of his tail. Certainly it seemed that she was an asset to the overall Starfa group. Her skills were unique to her history.


He was glad to hear her laugh at what he had said, it felt more comfortable than she had seemed toward the beginning of their conversation. Though the things she said were still peppered with nervous ticks like "um", it didn't seem so bad. Lochlan wanted her to be comfortable with him. After all, he was her friend. Even if they hadn't seen each other a lot, he would have called her friend and packmate together. Perhaps he was too quick to label wolves as companions of the heart, but that was how he worked. Quick to make friends and slow to anger with anyone. "Too bad we can't test it, we'll just have to use our imaginations." he responded, laughing himself at the thought of a chicken stuffed to the gullet with feed.


As they hunted for eggs, he felt like a child. It seemed for every one that he had brought back, she had three already in there. Of course, he was inexperienced so it was to be expected. Lochlan still would have liked to be a slightly more even contributor. When she mentioned that it seems that there were enough gathered, the young male scratched his mane in a sheepish way. "I think I got like three, and you got the rest. You are really good at finding eggs."


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#14
“They would um, probably end up rolling around in the pen,” Aspen replied with another giggle. She knew it probably wasn’t good to joke about, but since they didn’t actually intend to try to overfeed the chickens, it was probably okay. It was funny to imagine them completely round and stuffed, after all.

“Oh, that’s okay. I know most of um, the spots where they like to lay eggs, so I guess that makes it easier for me.” Sometimes the chickens liked to change nesting spots, but it seemed like they mostly each used the same spot. When she first started, it took her forever to find enough eggs, but she learned after not too long. Aspen picked up the bucket in her mouth and hauled it over to the side of the barn so no one would trip over it. Her steps were a little awkward since the bucket was just heavy enough to weigh her front end down a little, but she was used to it.

“There, Jin or Joon will come collect the bucket later,” Aspen said. Sometimes she took some eggs for herself to cook with, but usually she let them use them for whatever it was they did with them. She suspected that they used them to make foods to give to other pack members or something, but she wasn’t sure. “I-if you wanted um, you could take some of them. They taste good cooked, and they’re a little odd raw.” Aspen definitely preferred their texture when they were cooked, otherwise she found it to be very strange. Maybe she would take some home with her when she was finished with the rest of her chores.

“Um, that’s all I do for the chickens, though. Easy enough, huh?” She smiled and tail wagged a little behind her. “Thanks for helping me.”
#15
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  Out of Character

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  In Character
It was truly a compliment to her own awareness of the chickens that showed why she had been able to scope out the eggs quicker and gather them. He wondered if that meant certain chickens were losing their eggs every time. Then again, if they were so stupid as to lay them the same place where they lost the egg the last time, perhaps that was best. They would want the optimal genetic material passed on to the next generation of Vinattan chickens. Not some dumb egg layer who couldn't figure out the wolves took eggs that were laid where she kept laying them.


He watched as Aspen carried the bucket over to the side of the barn. For a moment, he considered offering to help, but decided against it. Lochlan didn't want to seem as if he didn't think she could handle it or that he was taking over too much from her duties. He knew if he was on patrol or doing something else to police the pack, he wouldn't want someone of another rank coming along and stepping on his toes. So while he was assisting, he was going to stick with what he was directed to do. Unless there was something he saw which was dangerous or really needed to be brought up. He doubted that would happen, though.


As she offered that he could take some if he wanted, he wagged his tail. "I may just have to do that! I've never eaten an egg before. How do you cook them?" he wondered if they stayed in their shells or if you cracked them out first. For now, though, he didn't take the eggs just yet. In case they were going to do more together, he didn't want to carry the delicate things around with him. The last thing Loch wanted was egg all over his satchel.


"Anytime! It was good to spend time together again. Anything else you need help doing or... er, what're you up to next, I guess?" he asked, realizing it sounded awkward after it came out of his mouth and laughing at himself for it.


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#16
"Well um, usually I just crack them open in the pan and cook them for a few minutes," Aspen replied. "Um, but not for too long because they get a weird chewy texture to them then." At least, she thought the texture was weird, so she made sure not to over cook her eggs anymore. "Next time um, I can get a deer I'm going to, um try them with the meat." She thought maybe the favors would mix well if she cut the meat up into little cubes or at least small pieces and mixed them together part way through cooking. It would be worth a try, at least. Aspen figured that, at least, she probably couldn’t go wrong with. She wasn’t sure if she would add any spices to it, though.

"Next? Um well," she hadn't really thought about what she was going to do next. Feeding the chickens had taken a shorter amount of time than usual, and after that, she usually did other chores, or went back home, or spent time with her cow. "Well um, I was thinking of going to see my cow, Lilac," she replied. Aspen wished she still had some carrots to bring her companion, but she couldn't find anymore in storage. Until some more grew, Lilac would just have to do without.

"Then I was thinking of going to watch the sheep for a bit.” It was something she liked doing, just watching the sheep as they ate. She supposed some would find it boring, but it was in her blood. Herding was as well, so that was part of it. “Or um, did you have something you wanted to do?" Aspen asked, remembering that he had been thinking of going to patrol the border when she had first come up on him.
#17
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  Out of Character

Word Count: 354


  In Character
He listened with genuine interest as she explained how she cooked the eggs. When she suggested adding deer to it, he nodded, though he was secretly not all that big a fan of deer. Smaller game and fish were far better to him. Which made it easier to be satisfied with his regular meals, since he never would be the best deer hunter. No matter how much he tried, he only got so far before he hit the upper limit of his skills. "I'll have to try it! I bet it wouldn't be any good with fish. Fish doesn't seem to go well with much of anything." he remarked. Either that or there just wasn't a way to improve upon a food that was so good on its own.


Lilac. It was a pretty name. Interesting that she had used it on a cow. Then again, he supposed bovines deserved pretty names too. "Sounds like fun! I haven't really spent a lot of time around cows before, so hopefully she won't hate me. Should we get a treat for her or something?" he asked. He wasn't even entirely sure what cows liked to eat, but he was sure they liked getting some when their owners came to visit. Lochlan would be interested to see how cows acted. Could they bond and be affectionate, like cats? Were they dumb like sheep? It was all a big mystery to him!


Speaking of sheep... apparently that was 3rd on the agenda. He wagged his tail in appreciation when she asked what he wanted to do. "Cow visiting and sheep watching sounds fun to me! I don't usuallly do that kind of thing a lot." which made sense, since he wasn't a Starfa. "Was there anything about being an Araedi that you wanted to learn more about? I could take you around on some of our regular tasks later, if you wanted." he offered. Not really minding either way, but figuring it would be fair to share more about his job since she was sharing about hers. Besides, it was good to know about what each rank did.


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#18
“Probably not,” Aspen agreed. She also had trouble finding things that went well with fish, so she always ended up making enough that the whole meal was fish and nothing else. Aspen thought maybe it was because of how strong the flavor was; the spices she used complemented it, but nothing else ever seemed to go. Maybe humans had put some other sort of vegetable with them; Aspen hoped someday to find a cookbook that had pictures in it since she couldn’t read.

“No, um, I don’t think they’ll hate you,” Aspen said with a shake of her head. “They’ll hope you have some food, but um, I don’t think there are any carrots left in the storage.” The last one she found was pretty dried out, although Lilac had happily eaten it anyway. But that was okay; the other cows were pushy when she brought food, although not aggressive. Once the food was gone, the rest, other than Lilac, tended to move away from her.

Aspen began to lead the way to the cows and nodded to Lochlan’s idea. “Um we can skip watching the sheep if you want. I don’t really do anything... just watch them to make sure nothing happens to them.” She supposed it probably sounded strange, but she found it relaxing. It was part of her habits before she was kidnapped, and it was another ‘normal’ thing that gave her comfort now. “And I would like t-to learn more about your rank. I um, don’t really know much about it,” she admitted, ducking her head a little as she continued on a trail that was already broken through the snow. Aspen knew more about the Vald rank since it was Cody’s.

Soon enough the cows came into view and Aspen stopped at the fence, where she let out a barking call. The cows heads all went up, but only Lilac moved towards her. The others watched from afar, waiting for some sign of food.

“Th-this is Lilac,” Aspen said, looking from Lochlan back to the brown cow who stared at them through the fence with gentle brown eyes.
#19
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Fish were good on their own, anyway, so he never felt they needed that something extra. Other meats, though... he really was more picky with them. Preferring fish to all other meats and small game to large game. It was an odd thing, perhaps, but he figured everyone had different preferences. He would still eat deer or larger meat if it was available, but if he had a choice he would pass it by. Most would probably think that odd, since it was a rarer dish to get. Loch was glad, though, that he preferred the more easily caught meal because that meant he could have his favorite meat all the time instead of on rare occasions.


He was glad to hear that it didn't sound like bovines were all that judgmental about their visitors. Lochlan knew the sheep and goats could be a bit picky about who came near them. Maybe the cows were more docile or forgiving. "Ahh, yeah, the last of the carrots have probably been thrown into a stew by now." he said. Otherwise they probably would have been unpalatable, anyway, given how long ago the root vegetables would have been harvested. At least, he thought so. He actually wasn't too familiar with which vegetables were ready when. Except some of the wild ones he picked.


"Sounds like a plan. I can show you some of what an Araedi does on a daily basis. I bet it'll be boring compared to all of your animal tending, but it's different, anyway." he replied with a wag of his tail and a smile. It wasn't that he was trying to divert her from her usual path - or that he would have minded observing sheep - but the Stormbringer thought she might like to see what the Araedi did. Though he wasn't planning to take her on anything dangerous or extreme, of course.


When they came to the cows, he listened to the call that she sent out to them. The cows all looked up as if in one mind and he laughed a bit at the sight. They were all so very much the same to him, though he was sure they had their own personality traits once you got to know them. Like most animals did. There was one that came forward, a brown cow with gentle trusting eyes. "Well hello there, Lilac. What a pretty girl you are." he said in the soft, soothing tones he had always used around horses.


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#20
“S-sounds good,” Aspen nodded, then added, “And I d-don’t think it will be boring.” After all, if it was boring, no one would want that rank. She knew the jobs they did were very important, although she didn’t know exactly what all they did. Aspen had a general idea but she was friends with more of the Valds than the Araedis. It wasn’t for any particular reason; it just seemed that was how it ended up.

With Lilac looking at them, Aspen glanced her over, making sure she didn’t have any wounds. The Starfa didn’t think the cows would hurt her, but there was always the chance Lilac had brushed up against a sharp part of a fence that needed fixing, or something like that and gotten a scrape or two, but she appeared to be alright. This was good because Aspen would have needed Jin or Joon’s help in treating the cut, or knowing if it was one that even needed treating; it was something she was still learning.

“Sorry I don’t have any carrots for you,” Aspen told the cow, reaching through the fence to pet her forehead. Lilac seemed to like that because she closed her eyes and leaned against Aspen’s paw. “There um, isn’t much that I really do with her right now, except visit her and um, talk to her.” She explained, still petting the cow. It had taken a little while to earn the animal’s trust, and she also seemed okay with canines that Aspen brought with her to meet Lilac. She wasn’t sure how the cow behaved when she wasn’t around, though. “I um, I’d like to breed her sometime. I’m hoping one of the bulls will do.” Aspen gestured towards the others that were still watching them warily. She still wished they were hairy cows like the one Ombre in Inferni had.

After a little while, Aspen turned and looked towards Lochlan, although she felt too timid to meet his eyes. “Um so, what sorts of things do you do?”
#21
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  Out of Character

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Different strokes for different folks; he figured that what he found interesting might not necessarily be what every other wolf found interesting. Loch knew not everyone liked to fish, which was one of his top interests. Nor did everyone like the job that he did. Otherwise they would be a pack full of Araedi, instead of one diversified into multiple tiers. It was a very good thing for the pack that this was the way that it worked, because all of one tier wouldn't be the best thing for anyone.


The Starfa moved to look over her livestock. Clearly she cared about the doe-eyed bovine. Lilac seemed pleased enough to be inspected. Either that or just distracted enough not to care. Though it didn't seem to him that there was much intelligence there. Loch didn't judge the animal for that, though. Not everyone could be as intelligent as the wolves. Otherwise they woulds top being the apex predator and someone else would take over from them. Just as wolves had taken over from humans. Eventually, it would happen. That eventually just wasn't right now. Certainly the cows would not lead the uprising.


At least it seemed the cow had a sense of who was taking care of her, though. She leaned forward appreciatively and affectionately into the hand of the Starfa, happy about the attention. Loch listened as Aspen explained her plans with the cow. "She seems well mannered, like she would make a good mother." the boy replied, considering the other cows with inexperienced eyes. "Do we usually breed a lot of our cows? I don't even know what our normal uses are for them." he asked, eager to learn more about the livestock.


As to what he normally did: "A lot of patrolling. We are here to be peacekeepers within the pack if it comes to that, too. Although I haven't really had to deal with any of that yet. Pack members mostly take care of their own disputes pretty peacefully." he said with a mild shrug. "We also act as bodyguards if necessary. Like, I escorted Carya on her trading expedition. If you ever need someone to escort you outside of the pack, just let me know. I'd be happy to help."


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#22
OOC: woops, I totally forgot what form Aspen was in xD I edited so she extended a paw to pet the cow.

“I th-think so, too,” Aspen said with a smile. She hoped Lilac would breed someday, probably with one of the bulls that they had, too. “We um, we haven’t bred them yet, but I think we’re going to. Um those over there produce milk,” she nodded her head to the other cows that were watching them, “but Lilac doesn’t yet. I think um, she hasn’t had any calves yet.” Aspen was pretty sure that was what started them producing milk.

Aspen listened to his explanation of what he usually did, and his rank definitely seemed useful to the pack. She knew of a few of his duties, but she didn’t realize how much he could do. It was almost like her own rank where she did the animal side of it, and Carya did the trading, but there was so many options for them to have.

“W-wow, that’s a lot to do,” she commented. She especially liked the idea of an escort outside the pack, and she wished she had known about that aspect of the rank sooner. But then again, Aspen wasn’t sure she would have felt comfortable bothering someone to go fishing with her in the river where she had been before getting kidnapped. It was only meant to be a day trip to a place she had been before. Now though... she might ask if she felt like leaving again.

“How often um do you go on patrol, then?” Aspen asked. She knew that the Valds also patrolled, but it would make sense for having two ranks do so. More patrols would only make the pack safer and keep everyone from getting too tired instead of overworking themselves. “And um, do you patrol the whole border, or only a certain part of it?” Patrolling was never a duty Aspen had before; in her birth pack she was too young and small.
#23
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  Out of Character

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OOPS! Oh yeah. XD


  In Character
The idea of breeding animals had never really occurred to him, though he knew it happened. Part of him had admittedly thought that it just happened. That there was no one managing the reproduction of animals. Certainly there didn't seem to be anyone managing it when it came to the cats in the pack. Then again, they were different. They weren't pack livestock, like the cows and bulls that were penned up. That served a purpose besides companionship, which was pretty much all that the cats did for their owners. That and be a general nuisance sometimes. "That makes sense." he replied about the milk. After all, cows probably produced it for their calves, not for wolves. At least not intentionally for wolves.


When she said that he had a lot of duties, he shook his head modestly. "Well, it's not any more than what you do. I mean, wow. I had no idea how much you have to do every day to take care of the animals or things like planning to breed them. That sounds like a lot of thinking and planning." he replied. Certainly he wouldn't have been able to keep track of it all. Which was why he was not in her position. Because it didn't interest him at all to plan the breeding of cows or to feed chickens every day. There were other things he would much rather be doing. Like patrolling and protecting his pack.


She asked how often he patrolled and he shrugged lightly. "It depends on the particular situation. With Solieri missing... at least three times a day, usually for a couple of hours each time. Sometimes more or less. There are lots of wolves - Vald and Araedi particularly - who patrol too. If I leave the territory, I make a point to do more patrols when I get back, since it's only fair to help whoever covered for me while I was gone." if they had to cover, that was. If he was gone a long time, he usually warned Axel so that the other male could cover the area more thoroughly than he might have normally. "And usually just part of it. The whole border takes a long time!" though he had done it before.


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#24
“It is,” Aspen nodded. She was glad Jin and Joon were around because without them, she would be completely lost as to what to do. She had learned a lot from them already, and there was still more to learn. She knew how to care for the horses as far as grooming them and checking for injuries, but she barely knew how to ride and hadn’t ever done so by herself. She had a feeling she didn’t even know how much more she could learn from them.

Aspen sat down while listening to Lochlan answer her questions and talk about his job. Patrolling all the time didn’t sound too interesting to her, but she supposed that was part of the reason she wasn’t an Araedi. Of course, there was also the fact that she wouldn’t be able to put up much of a fight against someone who was trying to trespass. Coyotes may take her seriously since she knew she could take on one of them if necessary, but once they got to be about her size, she would need help.

“That’s, um, a lot of patrolling,” Aspen commented, nodding to his explanation. Just thinking about it made her feel tired. “It must get exhausting sometimes.” It made sense, though, with so many Vinattans having disappeared recently, herself included, that they would want to do so much patrolling to make sure no one got in.

“How many Araedi are there?” She asked. There were only a few Starfa, and it made Aspen wonder if there were more of their packmates that were interested in protecting the pack instead of caring for the animals. There was plenty of work to do with the animals, but between them they didn’t struggle. Maybe Carya had more trouble since, as far as Aspen knew, she was the only one doing the trading part of the rank.
#25
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  Out of Character

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  In Character
There was a balance in the pack between all of the tiers and the jobs that they did. Sometimes, they entwined into one another and supported each other. It kept the pack running smoothly. At least as far as jobs and duties being accomplished for the pack's needs. Whether that was gardening, caring for livestock or guarding the borders. They were a pack of diversity and also cohesion, he thought. There was nowhere else he could imagine being for a pack. He wondered if that was because he was born here or if it was because this truly was the best place for him. It never occurred to him to shop around for another pack, though. Vinatta had always held his heart. The only conflict for him had been when Sangi'lak was around and he had been training with X'yrin. He had worked that out easily enough, though.


When she said it was a lot of patrolling, he laughed. It was true, he did a lot of that. "It's not so bad. The time flies by and it's nice to meet up with other Araedi, talk about the comings and goings of the areas. I guess it's not for everyone. Which is good, or we'd just walk all over each other all the time." he said with a playful grin. There was nothing wrong with having different hobbies. It was just like he enjoyed fishing, but others were frustrated by it. Whereas he sucked at land hunting and others excelled at it. Life balanced itself out, that was part of what he loved about it. Harmony was always being renewed.


Her question about the number of Araedi in the pack gave him cause to pause and think about it. Him, Bran, Shiloh... there were some others aspiring to join the ranks, he thought, but that was all right now. "Three, I think. There are Valds who patrol with us, too. Like Axle and Grit. I hope some of the Hollr will pick ranks, soon, either ours or others so that the skilled ranks balance out more." he remarked. Of course it had taken him a while to pick, so he understood why some of his agemates were taking their time.


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#26
OOC: wanna start wrapping this one up? We can start a more current one whenever you have time if you’d like. :D

IC:
"Oh, that makes sense," Aspen said. She knew that some of the duties overlapped, and that Axle and Grit patrolled, although she had been pretty sure they were Valds, but with something as important as protecting the borders, there really couldn't be too many people on the job, at least in her opinion. Of course, if they weren't organized, it could be bad, but she doubted that was the case. From what she could tell, everyone knew their job and did it without being asked.

"Yes, it's um, such a big decision though," Aspen nodded. For her, it had been an easy one. She had a hard time hunting more than small game by herself, couldn't use weapons, and wouldn't be much use in a fight to protect the borders, and she was not a scholarly type by any means. Besides, she just felt drawn to the livestock anyway. After all, one of the reasons she had even come to Vinatta was because sheep had been mentioned. Starfa had been the obvious rank for her, but she knew for others it might not be so easy. Having some duties overlap between Vald and Araedi might be helpful, though, but if those were a packmate's favorite tasks, choosing which way to go would still be difficult.

"They um, can change ranks if they realize what they picked wasn't right, can't they?" She couldn't see them being stuck in one rank, although it also was not something she had really thought about before because she had no intention of changing to a different rank path. Maybe to switch they'd slowly change over their duties so that their old position could be taken over by someone else as they took on new jobs. That way there would just suddenly be a blank spot in the previous rank.


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