[P] [M] taking roots as cradles rock
#1

WARNING: This thread contains material exceeding the general board rating of PG-13. It may contain very strong language, drug usage, graphic violence, or graphic sexual content. Reader discretion is advised.

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"Mommy, what'a da bones fer?"

A deer skull painted in the faded stains of crushed red berries and recent splatters of bird droppings hung askew from a tree branch. One antler dangled alone from a leather strip, broken apart from the cranium; it was an old skull, perhaps one of the first the Infernians had put up, when their claim was tentative and their bodies thin with hunger and fatigued with paranoia. Vicira tilted her head up to contemplate it, and contemplate where Inferni had come around to now – not even a year into her rule.

Starving. Cynical. Dead folk and deserters.

They're watchers, Vicira told the young puppy, smiling tiredly down at him. They watch us and keep us safe, and scare away bad wolves.

Oh, said Rhodes. He twisted his head around to keep the cracked skull in sight, stumbling through the mud.

There was less now that the rains had died down, and fewer mosquitos and other biting insects too – but prey was still scarce within their limited claim. Less territory to defend meant more time for hunting, Vicira had thought, but now coyotes had to range far afield to find a good meal. All she could do was take as little as possible for herself, to allow the sick and the young – like Rhodes, beginning to wean early out of necessity – to survive.

Mommy?

What-y, replied Vicira, distracted as they came to a swollen stream. She crouched by the water and scooped some up in her hand, lapping from her palm to test the taste. When it seemed clear, untainted by algae and debris, she invited Rhodes over. He plopped down by her side and slurped water from her cupped hands, tail wagging.

Meemaw said... Meemaw said she show me da wavens. He licked drops from his whiskers and tilted his head. And, and, I said – you come with me? The wavens aw noisy an' black. Like da funderclou'.

She smeared her wet hand across her brow. Clear skies aside, humidity lingered still. Her coat almost felt damp with it. Yes, they are like thunderclouds.

Where da rain come from?

Clouds.

No, he said, insistently nudging her calf. Where da clou' come from?

I don't know, Rhodes.

The child wrinkled his brow at her. Her tone had become dismissive, distant, and it was a quality in her voice that he had come to recognize. Torn between her child, her duties, and the increasing accusations and questions from her clan, something in Vicira had to give. God, she tried not to give any of it up. She frowned and stroked his head in apology.

Mommy doesn't know everything.

Meemaw does.

Vicira smiled. Yes, she likes to think so. She rubbed one of his dark ears. Maybe Meemaw knows where thunderclouds come from, but Mommy knows how to read, and how to ride horses. Everyone knows different things.

He slobbered on her thumb affectionately, showing no indication that this philosophy struck him as notable.

I wanna see da wavens wi' Meemaw, he insisted.

Vicira shut her eyes and sighed. She gave her son one last pat on the head, stood up –

Too fast. Her head swam, then turned dark. Her legs sank her to the ground, and she blinked to clear her vision, curling a fist in Rhodes' scruff. Rather than yelp, he gawked at her, her far-off stare and blinking eyes.

Aw you okay Mommy?

I'm fine, came through grit teeth. The tawny puppy wilted. She was careful to let go of him, then pushed herself up onto her feet again, waited until the forest turned from black to green, and started to walk the trail. Rhodes toddled after her, jumping stones and sticks to keep up, his tongue spilling from his jaws. He skidded to a stop when Vicira did, bracing an elbow against a tree and breathing harshly.

M-mommy?

His voice was dim beneath the rush of blood in her ears. She swallowed a few times, her throat dry, and cursed weakness. What kind of Aquila was she if she couldn't walk a few steps without blacking out? Already her clan muttered about her capabilities; if they sensed weakness, they would pounce. She pretended she didn't see them talking, and so she dragged herself out of the caverns and thrust her weeks-old son on others so she could do her duties, so she could hunt and take nothing for herself, and rebuild, and guide, and –

Mommy!

There was less mud now that the rains had died down, but enough to cushion Vicira's fall when she fell lifeless.

* * *

Rhodes cried out in fear when his mother fell, and scurried over to her. Her blue eyes were half-open but unseeing, her jaws parted; when he planted concerned licks and kisses on her snout, she didn't respond. He butted his head under her arm, held himself there against her chest. It moved shallowly, but to Rhodes that was no comfort.

His mommy wasn't answering him. Was she asleep? Was it a game? Sometimes Meemaw played that game, she shut her eyes and lie still then jumped and chewed his paws when he came over to check, but Vicira didn't move.

He snuggled harder against her bony ribcage, whimpering.

Then – Rhodes knew what he had to do. He had to find someone. He had to find Daddy; Redtooth would know what to do! Daddy or Meemaw or Sissy would make him feel safe again. They could wake Vicira up, or Redtooth could carry her home to bed like he sometimes carried Rhodes when Rhodes fell asleep when they played.

Determined, the child scampered off. He clambered over fallen logs, hid in the bushes when a long-legged deer walked by and blew at him, splashed through a stream. He panted, tongue hanging from his jaws, his feet soon aching. He was hungry, too, and soon he realized that he was very, very lost.

A flash of white in the bushes caught his eye.

Da bones keep us safe, Rhodes Lykoi murmured to himself. He walked over to the thorny bush and sat down, staring at the spike it had grown around. The branch had been placed there in the winter when Inferni first claimed the land, and the skull had been forgotten; it was a canine skull, oddly narrow in the nose.

It was a good place to sit and wait, Rhodes thought. He wiggled the tip of his tail nervously, casting frequent glances up at the skull sentinel.

Something rustled the bushes ahead. The puppy pricked his ears and sniffed, but no familiar smell came to him. Instead, it was something musky and overbearing, and the shape that pushed through the green fronds was long-legged, with unkempt fur. The canid had broad shoulders and a narrow snout, bright and hungry eyes. It lifted its nose to sniff at him, and Rhodes swallowed, his shoulders pushing against the brambles.

Hello?

The canid blinked. ...Hello.

* * *


Vicira's pale blue eyes fluttered open.

Her breath was shallow and hot, and her side ached from where she fell. A rock embedded in the mud had bruised her temple, and when she lifted her head and rubbed at the sore spot, her fingers came away dark. Uncoordinated, unknowing, she braced an elbow against the soft earth and tried to sit up. Her time spent horizontal had helped in some aspect, but she still felt foggy-headed, her body weak and trembling.

Time – how long had she been out?

The shadows that dappled the ground gave no answer. Neither did the uncertain little pawprints in the mud.

She shot upright so quickly she almost passed out again.

Rhodes! The mother clumsily got to her feet, fingers touching down on earth several times before she could stand. She looked around, eyes wide, heart racing. Rhodes, she called again – first sternly, then pleadingly. Rhodes!

He was not there.

His scent was there, in the drooping bracken and the spongy loam, but nausea washed bile over her taste buds and made it hard to smell. She swallowed and wrapped her long arms tightly around her shrunken stomach, casting her gaze about wildly, then cupped hands to her muzzle and howled.

The weak note faded in the canopy. Vicira drew in another breath, squeezing her eyes shut, and let up a higher, harsher yapping cry.


r u ready :')


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#2
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Like a house falling into the sea
Into the sea

Having withdrawn into himself after the death of his young son, Redtooth was finally beginning to feel like life was moving forward once again. Inferni was still falling apart at the seams, it seemed, while friends and family went hungry. But, the sun was out and Redtooth was in recovery -- no longer willing to wallow in self pity. He simply doubled down on his efforts with Rhodes, who proved to be a very talkative child, which at times could be grating. However, parenthood, when done right, was a very fulfilling duty and Redtooth relished in every moment he spent with his boy.

That being said, sometimes he needed a break, which Vicira kindly gave him by offering to take the boy for a walk around the border. Thinking it would do everyone some good, Redtooth took the time to take a much needed rest in the caves. It was a shallow sleep and he was stirred by his wife's panicked call from the borderlands.

How long had it been? Why were they not back? Redtooth immediately knew something was wrong, and he was not yet prepared for another disaster. He did not dilly-dally. He ran to his wife as fast as he could, till his lungs screamed for respite. When he came upon her, Redtooth's gaze fell on his wife's glassy eyes. The boy was nowhere to be seen.

"What happened? He demanded in frenzy. "Where is our son?"

OOC Text Here

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#3
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"Rhodes!" Vicira cried one more time, and fought to recover her breath. She sank back into the heavy limbs of a young tree, gasping and trembling, as the sound of her voice was lost in the leaves.

But her call for help was heeded. Someone crashed through the undergrowth, and then Redtooth was there, his eyes wild and darting, his chest heaving. He surmised what was wrong in a heartbeat, and his voice was frantic, direct. Despite herself, Vici flinched away from him, swallowed. Her pupils were dilated, eclipses of pale blue.

I-I-I don't know, I – I passed out. When I woke up he wasn't...

She swallowed again, then pulled from her reserves of logic and hope. They would accomplish nothing by panicking. Forcing her voice to sound strong, like the commander whose role she had taken the past two years, she stepped away from the crutch of the trees. He couldn't have gotten far. He's so little, he has to be tired from walking. It took an obsene amount of effort to keep from hyperventilating, and so her breath sounded breathy rather than direct. Come on. I – the tracks are this way. I just can't –

She lurched toward the muddy pawprints, toward the scent of a frightened youngster. She was too tired to call his name again, so she tried to sniff, to keep her head from swimming. Occasionally she would wobble, but she would brushed away any attempts at assistance, imagined or not. She couldn't really see Red focusing more on her than their lost boy. That was all that mattered, finding Rhodes.

He can't be far, he must be hiding, he –

The leaves whispered overhead, and a stream babbled quietly. Pinkish spurts of fireweed grew along the silty water. A skull leered at them beside a clattering pair of strung-up deer hooves, freshly placed by some coyote tending the borders after her order. While it was unhidden by the foliage that grew over the oldest markers, Vicira realized that the probable border they walked now hardly had any scent to it at all.

She walked faster, even if she stumbled. When Rhodes' scent grew stronger, she jogged. When she smelled a strange new canid's musk, she ran.

And when she came into the clearing, bizarrely, her eyes were drawn to the grinning narrow skull of a coyote hybrid hiding in the brambles. In hindsight, in her nightmares, she would wonder why that was the first thing she noticed.

Tufts of fur hung on the thorns. The ground was wet with blood, bile, drool. Things that should not be in the daylight glistened.

Rhodes was there by the bush. His one glazed eye looked at her.

Rhodes was by the tree on the other side of the clearing too.

Vicira screamed, loud and long, until the last of her air exited her lungs and she crumpled back down to the hard earth, retching and sobbing.



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#4
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Like a house falling into the sea
Into the sea

Redtooth's heart was seized with fear for his young son. Little more than a month old, Rhodes was not equipped to go without a guardian for any length of time -- especially this far out with their scent fading fast from the border. Redtooth saw no situation in which this ended well for his boy. He feared the worst.

Vicira's words fell on semi-deaf ears. Redtooth was hardly listening now. He thought only of his boy, of action and what to do.

They set along the trail, following the boy's tracks that wound clumsily around the old border skulls. It struck Redtooth as odd to see that his boy's path had not been random. There was rhyme and reason to it, though Redtooth knew not as to why this was. For some reason, this gave Redtooth hope. The longer they followed the trail, the more distinct their son's scent became; but then, there was the other, something unknown and wild lingering too. Redtooth found his hopes easily quashed and when his wife took off in a run, he followed close behind.

The blood. Oh, the scent of blood.

In a clearing by some trees, Rhodes was found. Mangled. In pieces. Redtooth saw him first and froze. Once vibrant eyes stared into nothing, dead. A head, a leg, scattered about in bits. Stunned into shock, Redtooth bit back the bile that nipped at his throat. His wife's scream pierced the silence, scaring the birds from the trees. He held her tight, pulling Vicira into his chest as he tried and failed to process the lies his eyes told him.

He wasn't here. This wasn't happening. He wasn't here. This wasn't happening. He wasn't here. This wasn't happening.

OOC Text Here

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#5
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Her scream died into choking sobs, and her knees hit the earth. When her husband wrapped her up tightly in his arms, Vicira pressed her face against his chest, shoulders quivering as she wept brokenly. She didn't have the presence of mind to do anything else; all logic was replaced with emotion, with anguish. She was an animal in pain and all she could do was cry, cry and try to banish the image impressed on the back of her eyelids.

It was too late. It was all she could see.

The Aquila whimpered and clung to her mate. Around them, the startled birds alighted back down on their perches, but the day was hot and their songs were muted. A predator had come through the wood, and the lower beasts were on their guard. Only a few flies braved the still clearing, alighting on wet fur, tasting blood.

The vegetation rustled, parted. Vicira dug her fingers in tighter to Redtooth's pelt, but heard a choked snarl that belonged to Conrad, a shrieked curse from Clover. Conrad snapped his teeth and said something about following the trail, and soon they were off again, Clover stumbling past the scene on legs that wanted to collapse beneath her.

Through it all, Vicira hid her gaze away. She could not look. She was not strong enough.

We're being punished, she hitched her sob into Redtooth's chest, I can't do this, I can't do this, I can't –



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