[P] Broken, with rocks, with clinging cedars
Clawed fingers dug into an earthy hold, then adjusted their grip to wrap around the thickest part of an old tree root. Testing her weight, Merari strained and hauled herself up to the next ledge with sore shoulder muscles, scrabbling with her feet at the bare stone of the cliff until she managed to heave herself onto solid ground. Here she turned, letting her legs dangle as she looked below, heart racing and head in the clouds, grinning at her accomplishment. She risked a laugh. Her lungs reveled in the pain, and she dropped her chin into her hands.

Climbing was not unfamiliar to Merari, who often hiked the steep slopes of the Death Mountains around her home. There were fewer plants on those razed cliffsides; on Halcyon, the slopes and precipices were shadowed by hardy maples and berry bushes. One of the latter had caught her last time she slipped and fell; she had some nasty abrasions to show for it, but she paid them no mind – not when delicious adrenaline flooded her veins.

The wind whipped her pigtails around. Out here on this little cliff’s edge she felt exposed, but she felt no urge to nestle back into the tree whose root had given her a handhold. She sucked in the air, then got back to her feet. She wasn’t at the top yet.

A hop, a scuffle against the stone, a second attempt, and Merari was climbing again. The valley where she left Laurel and Gorda behind seemed so far away.

Almost there. Merari saw it: the lip of stone and the sky beyond. It was not the tallest peak in the range by far – no one could attempt to traverse the great crests without rope, experience, tools, and companions Rari did not have – but pride filled the girl’s chest nonetheless. Her youthful muscles protested the last stretch, but she reached up, grabbed rock.

It crumbled away under her fingers. Merari knew she would fall, and this time the mountain would not be so kind to her.

face down in the desert now there's a cage locked around my heart
Bramble would never have been able to explain the urge to climb to someone who didn’t have. Tell them about the little voice in his head that thought let’s do it. When he was climbing there was no thought of the past or the future, further than the next hand hold. All worries dropped away, replaced by a pounding heart at the thrill that soon he would have dominated another summit. Of course there was always the fear, and if it was allowed to take control, it would paralyse you and you might has well throw yourself off. Keeping a calm head, and focus was important, and all the talents that Chetan had taught him.

As he lay there, at the top of his climb, Bramble’s chest heaved. His entire body ached. The strain on his limbs had made them start to shake. There had been some hairy moments, the wind had gusted a fair bit and some of the hand holds had been slippery. It was the sound of laughter that brought him back to himself and made Bramble sit up. He knew that sound could be strange within the peaks. His ears twitched, and he flipped back the one that always mis-behaved, but it quickly fell back down. He turned his head, but here was no further sound. Getting slowly to his feet he peered around. It was only luck that he looked down at the sound of, what he assumed to be, pebbles falling down the slope. There beneath the young Parhelion was a female he’d never seen before. Of course he didn’t get much of a chance to take in her appearance, because as he watched he saw her fatal mistake. Time seemed to stop, in an extremely cliché way. He knew she was going to fall, there was no way she could get back her hand hold in time. In that instant a thousand thoughts ran through his mind, a myriad of combinations, but they all dropped away as Chetan’s training kicked in, and he dropped to his knees, to give him more reach. Doing his best to brace himself, Bramble leaned out and with snake like quickness grabbed her wrist in a firm grip. It doubtless would hurt her, but better to be hurt an alive than a loose grip and dead, at least he’d be able to apologise to her once she was safe.

”I got y’. y’ not gonna fall, brace you legs and push up, I’ll pull y’. I’ve got y’, don’t panic.”

Bramble was aware of the fact that even though e might have got the Luperci youth, she might still be a victim of shock or panic, both of which could be killers. Keeping that fear in check was far harder when things went wrong, and if it took over, it might be that they both fell.

Most who felt that mountain crumble away beneath their fingers would panic – but Merari, though chemical reactions were going off in her body, surged with adrenaline, strangely found perfect clarity in her thoughts. The second ticked by very slowly, and she considered that she might die if she fell, and then that she might survive, her bodies caught by branches and stone, and end up broken-boned on the cliffs. Her other hand started to shoot up, to grab for whatever assistance the mountain provided, and she thought she saw a shadow peering over the lip of stone.

Then a hand flashed out and grabbed her wrist. Merari bared her teeth at the jolt of pain from his grip and the sudden stop, then stared up at him with wide eyes. He was speaking to her. It took another moment for her to register what he said, her mouth agape, her ears pricked. Dumbly, she stared another instant, then blinked and braced her legs like he ordered. Pushing herself with her paws, she felt herself being lifted, until she was hoisted onto solid ground. She looked into the face of her rescuer then, his eyes like sun and sky, the wind whipping her pigtails until her legs quivered then sank.

Merari lowered herself to the earth then rolled over once there, breathing heavily, her heart racing and her pupils swollen. Then, strangely, she began to laugh. The giggles were exhilirated and a touch fearful, but the trembling in her limbs wasn't unpleasurable.

I've never felt anything like that before, Merari said. She wasn't making sense, but she didn't really care. You were so quick, she added, by way of thanks, her eyes lit up.

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face down in the desert now there's a cage locked around my heart
Bramble took a steadying breath. Though he’d not been the one about to plummet to their death, he knew if it wasn’t for Chetan’s training, this stranger would have died. Blood roared in his ears, and the young Parhelion knew that death had stood beside them today. Of course there was fear, but he couldn’t deny the added thrill of it, and as the strange female slumped to the ground he understood the signs. Adrenaline was a powerful thing, but as it drained away, it took with it strength, but left behind a light-headedness that was intoxicating. It was only as she lay there, and he was able to get a better look at her, that he realised his limbs were trembling.

Her pelt was dark, her fur short and a little unkempt. She has the narrow features of a coyote, but not narrow enough, hints of the hybrid in her. Her long limbs were toned and her form was lithe. Bramble felt his ears heat a little as she lay there, her laughter a release of tension. Bramble smiled easily and answered her question with a self-deprecating demure.

”I was just lucky.”

Channelling his inner dad, Bramble continued.

”Pretty dangerous to be climbing up here with out a rope or hooks.”

The fact that he’d done almost the identical climb was neither here nor there, he felt he had to say it.

”What’s your name? I’m Bramble, pack wolf from Krokar.”

He felt awkward saying it and, his unease manifested itself in the same gesture his dad often used, his hand going to the back of his neck and rubbing at it. A gust of cool wind distracted him and he looked in the direction of the glow. It wouldn’t be long now before the sun rose above that horizon, it was a hell of a sight to see.

”Listen, you’ve made it up here, you need to sit up and see this, it’d be a shame to come up all this way and miss it.”.
There were two sides of Death, and Merari was well-acquainted with one of his faces -- that creeping, wasting, languid death that was winter and starvation and illness. But she'd yet to brush against the other side, the unexpected, the ambush predator. One minute you were alive, and the next you were dead, but despite this she could not find it in herself to fear terror like she should have. Quivering and breathing hard on the rock, Merari did not let her mind dwell on the previous seconds.

"Not as lucky as me huh?" she shot back, grinning. He had an easy smile, softened with doggish features, that turned up the bristly hair around his muzzle. It made him look and sound kind even though he chastised in in the next moment -- and ever the sassy little teenager, Merari said, "Well where's your rope?"

He introduced himself as Bramble, pack wolf -- the sort her mother never trusted. It was the sort Merari didn't trust, either, but she didn't latch onto the same extreme views as some of her ancestors did. Her meemaw always told her that wolves could be good, and that coyotes could be jackasses, and Krokar was not one of the packs Rari had been told about. It must not have been bad.

"I'm Merari, from Inferni," the girl replied, and at his bidding made herself sit up, braced on quivering arms.

When she saw the light, she made a move to get up on her shaky legs, too, and reached out to catch herself by grabbing Bramble's arm. Once she was vertical, she watched as the sun's influence began to creep across the land: cliffs and valleys and the forest and fields far below, a perspective she had never considered before.

It did not quite take her breath away, as the cliche went, as her chest still heaved as she regained her air -- but her mouth was open and dry, and she couldn't muster words. It was a striking sight, but rather than feel drawn to the beauty of it, Rari felt pride. She had made it up here, she was above it all.

face down in the desert now there's a cage locked around my heart
At Merari’s comment about his rope, Bramble floundered for a moment. She made a good point, but a small flutter of pride quailed at the thought of admitting it. In truth she was right, but Bramble would never have felt so alive with a rope, knowing that there was something supporting him would rob the thrill of it. His heart had pounded, every strand of fur alive as he’d inched his way to the top. Now he stood here, beside a very beautiful stranger, and it all seemed worth it.

”It came lose and fell.”

Bramble wasn’t an accomplished liar, but he didn’t want to admit Merari had a point, or take a petulant stance and point out that he had not slipped, the day was too nice and the company pleasant, for such a tack.

As the young coyote took his arm to steady herself, Bramble felt the hairs on his neck tighten. He tried to watch the sunrise, but her touch on his arm was very distracting. Bramble had always been an easy going sort, quick to laugh and make friends, but he’d always struggled around pretty females. His tongue always seemed to grow too large for his mouth, and his pulse would quicken. It occurred to him then, that she might noticed his heartbeat and he felt his ears begin to burn. Hopefully she’d just think it was the recent shock, climb or perhaps the sunset.

He found his gaze turning to Merari, watching the sun lighten the colour of her fur, it was a lovely sight, even as she stood there with her mouth open.

”So…” he said at last, needing to break the silence [b]”Was the climb worth it?”

For a reckless moment, a voice, probably his uncle Finlay’s, told him to kiss her. It was the same sort of impulse he often felt when he stood on the edge of a cliff, the one that urged him to jump. Of course he would never act upon it, but the voice would always whisper it.

Not sure what else we wanted to do with this thread, but I'd love a reunion soon! :>

Merari glanced slyly at the doggish man when he mentioned his rope, but she wasn't experienced enough to truly read strangers' lies -- even if they weren't great liars. She doubted, but she didn't feel like arguing more than sardonic quips and quick smirks. Even if she'd had rope to use, she wouldn't know where to begin placing anchors or tying secure knots; that was why she climbed alone. She instinctively knew how to use her own body.

His arm did feel oddly warm where she gripped it, but Rari was too distracted by the sunset blazing over the extended horizon to wonder. She had never been west of the Waste before. Meemaw had told her there was so much land, endless land: tundras and places called deserts and forests and mountain ranges in between. The east simply ended at the sea.

The thought sparked something in her chest, but she suppressed it guiltily. She could not leave her family and the only home she'd ever known for a journey with no destination.

Bramble's voice broke through her thoughts, and she glanced at him, briefly startled by his mismatched eyes again. Her mouth parted, a beat of hesitation, and then she laughed. Yeah, I think it was worth it. She hadn't died after all; she still felt untouchable, even if the brush with consequence had excited her so much.

So... Merari found herself thinning her eyes at him playfully, her tongue lolling from her narrow jaws as she gestured at the cliff. How we gonna get back down?

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face down in the desert now there's a cage locked around my heart

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