[RO] Cares nothing for the sheep
#1
Snow fell on the prairie, and to Amariah the tumbling flakes felt like an omen.

A month had passed since he was permitted to join the coyote clan, and he was still not used to it. He still woke sometimes, their scents hot and bitter in his nostrils, snarling and bristling like he was about to be ambushed. If he did not wake, he dreamed; teeth set into him, wolf teeth and coyote teeth, and tore his flesh apart.

He wondered if this was an omen, too.

It was heresy to dwell on such superstitious things, he told himself, and yet he couldn’t keep his shoulders from tensing, vapor puffing from tight lips, as his blazing orange form padded across the white landscape. This, at least, he became more familiar with. It wasn’t the same mountain trails he ran as a young hunter, but he could recognize it all, at least, and remember. The only problem was that everything looked so strange under the snow.

But it wasn’t hard to find the borders, the skulls, and Amariah skulked beneath them, weaving in and out, thinking.

Winter pressed around him, frosted his whiskers, made his breath short.

When he heard the yapping cry his first instinct was to lunge out, to shout a warning, to tear the attacker apart.


Inches from the wide golden-brown eyes and trembling lip, Amariah stopped.

“Who are you,” he growled, and the tawny coyote jerked his head down and skittered away from him a few steps. A ridiculously bushy tail was clamped between his thighs, and his wide eyes peered nervously up at the red coy-wolf. “Why are you here,” Amariah pressed, striding forward, and again the coyote scampered submissively.

“I was! I was just—“ The coyote blinked hard and clucked his tongue in a nervous tic, then rambled onward. “This is a coyote place, right? I! I! I thought I was gonna be safe here, I—“

Realizing what this was, Amariah halted. His tail lowered and he clenched his jaw. He considered the awkward coyote a few moments more then growled. “Let me call for someone,” he said stiffly, and the coyote clucked his tongue and half-smiled.

Amariah’s howl was an awful cry, high-pitched and strained. As it died down, he flattened his ears self-consciously and sat in the snow with a contemptuous huff.

“You sound like a coyote,” said the coyote.

Orange eyes flicked to him.

“You look like a wolf though,” he continued.

“I know.”

“What’s your name?”

“Amariah.”

“I’m Tweed.”
The coyote waved his tail and exclaimed, “And! I have horses!”

Ears pricked. No one had deigned to leave their horses in the coy-wolf’s care back home, but he was familiar enough with the beasts.

“Yeah! I need to get them though!”

“You should do that quickly.”


Tweed, apparently over his fear of the flame-colored hybrid, lolled his tongue and nodded energetically. “Okay! Just! Just wait here!”

Amariah grunted in response. The coyote skittered off.

It wasn’t five minutes before he heard a trumpeting whinny and a yap: “Actually! I might need help!”
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#2
“So what is this?” Vicira asked.

The red coywolf, the new one (though not the newest), had flinched at her approach. He was on two legs—she hadn’t seen that from him before—and seemed to cringe more than the submissive little coyote standing at his side, fussing at the head of a white mare. Certainly she hadn’t snuck up on them, not on horseback, but he still looked so guilty and anxious that it made her eyes narrow.

Someone had hurt Amariah Eld before, Vici thought, but there was more to it than that.

“This is Tweed,” supplied the Tirones, his ears pinned in shaggy hair and his tongue lashing out over his lips, muzzle wrinkled as if he’d a bad taste in his mouth. “And these—“

“Peabrain and Badhorse,”
said Tweed, and clucked his tongue.

The grey coywolf leaned around Kresnik’s neck and stared at the animals, one a docile mare and the other a stallion dappled on a white-blanketed rump. It wasn’t hard to surmise which horse was which; the stallion’s posture was aggressive, barely-restrained, though he followed the cues of the simple mare.

“You work with horses, then?” she asked.

“Oh! No! I just!” Tweed pushed his fingertips together, the rope on the mare’s halter forgotten, but she didn’t seem to care. “The guy who changed me! They were his!”

“Changed you?”

“Yeah!”
Tweed grinned and gestured to himself. “You know! Everyone’s got somebody who changed ‘em, right! But they were his, and.” His smile faded. “He died. So.” He shook his head quickly, snatching up the rope again. “It was hard, because. There were wolves everywhere. And the man said. He said Inferni was the place to go. So! Now I’m here!”

Vicira frowned and tilted her head at the young coyote, while Amariah seemed intent on staring anywhere but at her, his hand balled into a fist.

She had several more questions, but now wasn’t the time or place for them. The stallion had begun to flatten his ears and snake his head, fixing a white-edged eye on Kresnik—who, for his part, played innocent though Vici could feel the tension in him. There weren’t many aggressive horses to deal with in Svantevit, and while he seemed to tolerate aggressive overtures from dominant mares, stallions put him on edge.

“We need to get that beast stabled,” Vici said, and heard Amariah sigh in relief. She wasn’t sure what had transpired before she reached them, but both looked like they’d exerted themselves to get the horses this far. “You’re taking charge of him, then?”

Tongue cluck. Fidget. “Um.”

The Regulus sighed. “Come on, then. We’re closer to the village; I’ll take a look at him. The mare’s fine to be around other horses, right? Good.” She turned Kresnik around, hoping that hind hooves between him and the stallion might ease his nerves a bit, and focused him on a winding trail through the tall grass and snow.

She heard the crunch of footfalls and paused. “Amariah.” She glanced back. “You come with me, too.”
#3
“Wait here,” the tall coyote said, and the door was sucked shut behind her.

Amariah ran his hand through his mane and looked down the hall. He’d never been inside the schoolhouse before; it lay near the outskirts of the Waste, deep enough within the territory to be protected but far enough from Grimwell that he hadn’t considered visiting. Other than a handful of coyotes and some horses and sheep, though, it didn’t offer much.

The only thing that could be said for it was that it was quiet.

The coy-wolf frowned and walked through the building, sticking his nose into open doorways curiously. Many smelled abandoned; the few occupied rooms were shut off. Only one had any sort of fresh scent to it and, unable to help himself with the door wide open, Amariah crept in.

It was the grey coyote’s room, he knew at once. It smelled like her, and it was well-kept, with several pieces of furniture along the wall: workbench, desk, woodstove. He smelled charcoal, pelts, paper and parchment.

He stood in the center of room for some time, his ears twisting back to listen for the front door swinging open or a creak of the floorboards. He shouldn’t be here, he thought. He started to step back toward the door when something caught his eye.

A pamphlet.

His eyes widened, and he seized the parchment in his hand, turning it open. He scanned the words, his brow furrowed, his heart racing.

The words he’d heard all his life laid out in a neat script.

“What the fuck are you doing?”

Amariah did not jump. His muscles instinctively tensed, and his lips peeled back to show teeth in a fearful grimace, but he remained stiff as he gripped the parchment in his hands. It wasn’t until the Regulus, bold, grabbed his shoulder and whirled him around that he acknowledged her with bright eyes.

“What is this?” he asked. “Why do you have this? You realize what this says?”

“It’s propaganda,” Vicira said. Now that she was facing him, her claws digging into his shoulder, she seemed uncertain. Her eyes were cold, darting. “Before I was born, wolves came.”

A shudder went through him. He remembered his mother grooming brambles and burrs from his fur, soothing him, telling him that yes, they were all right, his father was a coyote, Amariah had bad blood. He remembered the steely eyes of his community’s leaders, the distrust. He remembered their scars.

Coyote, coyote, coyote.

The children pelted him with rocks.

They’re bad. You’re bad.

Their speaker, with a grim-drawn frown.

It’s evil. Sin.

An older man, grabbing him by the shoulders, teeth yellow and chipped.

Do you know what they did?!


“Do you know what they did?” Vicira asked, and he flinched back from her this time. “They tried to destroy us—with these words, with their weapons. We didn’t let them.” She paused, and with her eyes odd, wide, she spoke lowly. “Don’t tell anyone that these are here. Do you understand me?”

Amariah jerked his head down. He tried to step away from her, but her grip tightened. “I understand,” he said.

She stared at him. Her expression twisted; she was suspicious. He stared at the floorboards until she at last let him go, and he rubbed his shoulder. She extended a hand, and he put the pamphlet into it, watched her smooth its wrinkles carefully. She walked to the desk and set it down beside another paper, a list of notes in big print. He caught some of the words, but when she looked back at him, he was quick to rush from the room.

The little coyote, Tweed, was outside when he stepped into the snow. He stared up at the red-colored man, tilting his head, and followed him as Amariah walked south.


“Amariah! Hey!”

His breath clouded around his muzzle, but he didn’t feel cold anymore. His blood felt like it was boiling. He looked down at the big gold-brown eyes, silent.

“Um!” said Tweed, and ran a circle around him; he’d shifted back onto all fours, making short trotting strides for the determined steps Amariah took. “Vicira said. She said you were new, too! And. I wanted to ask if we could be friends! You know?”

Amariah stopped and stared at him in bafflement.

“And I was wondering! Why did you come here? I mean! It’s a good coyote place, right! And there are no wolves here!”

The coy-wolf blinked and walked on, Tweed scampering after him.

“I’m half wolf.”

“Oh! Well, I didn’t mean—“

“Only half.”
He remembered the words on the pamphlet, the words ringing in his ears. “My pack said that I had bad blood, that I couldn’t redeem myself for my father’s sins.”

“Oh!”


“So I came here to prove them wrong.”
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