[P] [M] You Paid a High Price for Your Suspicion
#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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Backdated to 19th

The heat was wearing on him.

As the sun lingered beyond its highest point, Zetsubou marched onward. On his mind was something, anything, from the blue-eyed, grey-furred monster he knew still lived. In him, something told him, that Shaamah wasn't so stupid as to tempt fate. The warrior had fallen to the weakest soul he could have imagined. A servant that usurped a king. How much did those tales of how the man wielded an army in his youth mean now that he was made powerless to Zetsubou's mercy. Did it mean enough, that the warrior wouldn't dare cross Casa di Cavalieri?

Zetsubou wanted to be sure, and in his heart he knew this was a mad man's mission, but for Casa, it seemed worth the effort. Luca had already paid. If it was Shaamah that might have done this? He didn't want to think about returning to face that potential shame on top of everything else.

This was stupid. A curse filtered under his breath and he spat out the grass he chewed to help pass the time. It wasn't Shaamah, it couldnt' have been. Sunflowers reached up from the earth with their yellow petals and round faces, their seeds plucked clean in patches before they'd even had a chance to fully form. Such a sweet perfume carried with it a darkness in him. It turned his stomach.

Those were awful times.

Perhaps, it was best to learn from that lesson before it came to pass? He didn't want to be associated with a Cavalier's scent if something happened out here. Not right now.

Broad shoulders tilted aside as he weaved his way into the tall stalks. The smell surrounded him. Encompassed him. Pollen stuck to his clothing and tickled his nose. A sneeze was enough to tell him it he was nearly done. Hardy golden haze covered him from head nearly to toe and he waited to pat it all away until he reached free of the stalks. Everything about this was so stupid. If he knew this, why was he still walking?

Further on his journey he passed, and as the sun tempted the shadowed mountains, there was something that caught his eye. Brows furrowed with narrowed gaze, the bridge of his nose wrinkling as he focused on the faint glow, the breath of smoke, that rose from the trees. There was no better place to start. Shaamah couldn't attach himself to any pack in the area, not with the things he had done. The people he'd wronged, even in disbanded packs, now piled in other territories and trickled into the outer posts where the exterior stations of those packs reached their fingers.

Nowhere in this land was safe, and the honest concept that Shaamah probably had left it held more reason than staying. Unless, he couldn't travel. What an ironic state Zetsubou would be in were that the case. He couldn't leave because he'd been beaten too badly, and Zetsubou was to suffer for it, again.

Yet the sight of the defeated warrior, turned tail and running, still had not settled properly in him. There was no instance of cowardice in Shaamah's eye, despite what the others might have said about the whole thing. Luca's death was enough to summon his doubts. Why else would he be out here, acting like the same old fool he'd always been?

The mountain ate the sun as it fell beyond the ocean, and the warm glow of fire stretched the dark prints of the trees longer and longer as he approached. Voices rolled through in a quiet lull, and the bastard son shrank to a crouch. Gingerly, fingers balanced him as he crept along the forest floor in search of a point where he could gain a visual, but he was frozen in place when a face came into the words that had grown more clear with less distance.

His breath was caught in his chest. He knew that man.

Curious features melted into stern inquisition, and mustering up the courage to put himself between a large stone and a bush, had him hidden well enough. When eyes finally laid on the encampment, the four people that rested there, his teeth clenched.

A family reunion that he'd missed the invite for.

Golden eyes. Blue eyes. Gray fur. His heart raced.

What were they doing here?


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#2
Ooc here
I'm Coming for You

An aged hand twisted the spit.

Pooled grease dribbled from a pit in the sizzling sinew into the fire's light and sparkled as it glittered in the golden glow,” Not long now, my babies,” A smile climbed with a snake's grace on his lips. Silver maw stretched with lines that traced rivers across his expression. Mottled white fur that sprouted from the root of his thin skinned, mocha leather nose muddied the iron strip that ran the length of his visage. Eyes of gold were ever piercing. Watching. They hungrily sought not the meal that cooked before him, but the faces that surrounded his circumference.

His children. His subjects. His little warriors.

His shield.

“Just a bit more, my sweet children,” Legs straightened as he nearly floated into an upright position. The tar, bedraggled robe that concealed him worked to cover most of him from sight. The old wounds. How he hated them. How they upset the children. It certainly must be that. What other reason could they have that their eyes lingered on such old scars? A dark hand gestured to the wrap of fabric placed far enough from the flames to warm it, but not char the threads,” Break your bread while we wait for our meat to finish. There is a vital journey ahead. I wouldn't dare wish you weary, so eat. Eat away.”

Calm. Warm. Loving. His voice rose above the warmth of the fire in a quiet way, but not in so that it didn't demand their attention all the same. It would be a sin for them to let any of this meal go to waste. Those above had blessed them with the fortune of it's arrival, an easy catch. A full meal to feed his precious family. Certainly, it had fought in return, but a demon had no place in this world. The ring they wore had paid for the bread, as well.

As the lot of them carried on quietly about the fire, Isaiah stepped back, sitting beneath the long reaching arm of a Cedar. It's trunk rested within the light of the fire's glow, but farther from its warmth. Hands slipped into obscurity, within the cover of charcoal fabric that melted with the black of the night's shadows. Alert eyes watched carefully as his children collected their bread, scrutinizing everything that they did. Waited for that precious moment to instill the word of their gods in them, when those voices graced his ears where in all their youth, they could not hear their deities,” Achsah, my dear pet, will you serve Nazar. He has earned his seat today.”

The lot of them finally sat. His daughter, ever so stunning, stole his eye for far longer than the rest.

Time was given for them to eat and rest, before the veteran rose to his feet to stand before them, one final time before they could rest their heads,” My sweet, sweet children,” Grin, ever so warm, found the air. Deep and rough, yet with a gentleness among it, a silver tongue against a rusted copper world,” Soon, we will find the man that has wounded me in malice. Killed countless others by no cause. Torn families and stolen young lives. My own son had taken his god-fearing mother, consumed by the darkness that would have him a sinner before us all,” The grin faded as a frown took its place. There was pain there, real pain, and he buried his face in his hand. With his features turned away from the young souls before him, he continued,” I paid the price for my lax embrace on my boy's tether to our gods. I may carry the marks of his sin on my skin, but the deities that rule us have spoken.”

A sinister frame circled the fire's glow, the shadow that it cast long and unreal painting the surface of trees and brush as he moved,” Shaamah ages, and in our blessing, he has recovered from his injuries. His own children attempted to rid his evil from this world. Their plight was of virtue, as should ours be. What they have failed in, we shall conquer,” A proper place became his podium. The flames to his back, lit his edges in lapping tongues of white and amber. As if the halo of the fiery, hot glow knew, it's hunger grew taller,” It is no righteous thing to brutalize the feeble, no. This is why we prayed for patience, health, and skill, while we waited for the mighty creators to turn the shadows of life.”

Wind brushed across the ragged edges of his black robe while a hand, tightened into a fist with knuckles braced in white beneath the fine threads of iron. His tone rose into fervor, his spirit soared with the energy that tore through his chest,” Our path is direct, now. Whispers in my ears of fate and destiny sing the praises of my children that sit before me, as I speak their names into divinity. Achsah. Nazar. Mithra. Your reputation will be alight in the flame of our god’s eyes, your toils on their tongues as mighty warriors and heroes to be known for a time long beyond our own. Your memories will be immortal. In this way, you can live forever. Can you feel it in your soul? The embrace of our heavens hand, gripping your heart? Lifting the hairs of your neck? Settling in your stomach?”

Nearly panting, he could feel the edges of himself trembling with the vigor blessed by his decree. Now, however, was the time for calm. Rest. Sleep. Serenity consumed him now as rough digits revealed the golden hue of his sight once behind a thin curtain of gray,” Shaamah will die by the third light of the sun. Do not forget; It is our duty, by relation, that we heal this existence from his sin. We did not choose this journey, but rest in faith that it is our burden to bear until a cure is administered. Pray, tonight, that we find peace in his end. That the destiny written for us edges in our favor.”

As if something had stolen his verver, his enthusiasm waned. They would know it was age. They would know he was exhausted and that sleep neared by his unspoken direction,” Remember, my sweet children. I love you all, with everything that I am,” A warm palm brushed gently over the rigid angle of Achsah's clenched jaw, as he passed her,” I have spent my elder years to collect you. To protect you. All I have done is done for you,” Hands, like snakes, slithered into the coal threads that encompassed him. He walked beyond them, to his Cedar, and bent his knees to rest,” I will risk my final days to defend you and I only ask that my love is returned, should I need you most.”

A finger pinched the hood, once settled at his nape, and tugged it over his eyes. Naught but his muzzle slipped from the obscurity, and there he slept, with open eyes. Ever watching. Ever waiting.

Ever hungry.


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#3
Ooc here

Icy blue, cold and callous, lingered on his brother as their grandfather busied himself with dinner. Nazar's fists, tucked beneath his elbows as crossed arms rested on his chest, curled solid digits around gathered mountain gravel. It ground in his palm, with the coarse grit of heavy sand, before a bit of it was loosed by his thumb. There the little stone sat, pinched between his fingertips, until Ohja's voice spoke through the crackling fire.

With his nail, he flicked the stone at Mithra, his eyes aimed toward Ohja and feigning interest in what the man spoke. A crooked grin played on his dark maw. Oh, he wanted Mithra to know it was him, but he knew his tender brother wouldn't dare speak up about it. Not if there was a chance of a bird, or a bug, or a leaf, that could mark Nazar's innocence first. At least, he doubted the ruddy blob of a man would dare speak of such injustice while Ohja's tone found the space.

They all knew far better than to speak until they were granted permissions to be free among themselves.

His grandfather beckoned them to start their meal with bread, and Achsah's nearness had her obediently passing the warm, crusted loaves down from the fire, to Mithra, and to Nazar. While his brother reached for his own, another pebble shot from beneath Nazar's hidden hand, to tag Mithra with a distraction. All he wanted was that flinch. Just to see the kid uneasy was enough to bring joy into his life.

Bread was far more interesting than Mithra ever could be and Nazar's hungry stomach had him sprinkling the pebbles behind him, clapping his hands free of the stones that stuck there, to accept his food. Ivory fangs sank into the tacky loaf, and molars pulled to tear the tough crust. At least the warmth added some softness to it. Full mouth chewed half-open, a hum of how good it fell followed as the lump hit his center. They hadn't eaten in days, and training had taken as much out of him as it had Achsah.

Mithra, full and round as he was, should have spared his last meal for Achsah and Nazar, both. At least one of them was working hard. Nose wrinkled at the thought and an angry glare through narrowed eyes shot at the rotund brother. Disgusting, how he let himself live.

Achsah worked quietly and without qualm to Nazar pestering Mithra. When she found that the meat had finished, she worked to cut it down with a blade from her hip, and Nazar rose to the occasion as his stomach growled for more. It wasn't until Grandfather spoke that he chose to plop right back down where he sat. A full smile met Mithra, toothy, crooked and laced with ego. His arms folded behind his head while legs crossed, a counter balance, as he leaned back to be treated like a king. If Mithra had ever achieved a damn thing, then maybe he'd get to enjoy this kind of gratitude. Lazy and ungrateful, his brother always was.

As Mr. Roundy was left to get up and get his own grub, Nazar didn't hesitate to let his foot reach out just a little bit more to the right. Just enough to catch that meat-head's ankle, and with any great fortune, send him toppling down.

Achsah, however, moved around the opposite side of the flames and kneeled before Nazar. In her hand, she offered her Nephew his meat, and another portion of bread.  Leaning into his Aunt's offering, he took it rather curtly. A quiet grumble from her reaching him before she turned away.

It was enough to set him straight, but still he reveled in his larger portion, served to him like a king. Whenever they were done with all this sneaky bullshit, Nazar was going to show them who he absolutely was. He'd earn her respect, which seemed a far tougher game than winning over Grandfather.

“Mithra, you dumb, fat, boar. How could it ever be that you could win favor? You cannot even stand without falling into the dirt,” He started. Every night was like this. Every night he pestered Mithra, in old and new ways. His brother's arrival had not only stolen his thunder, but made everything more difficult. If he wasn't going to work harder, he was going to suffer. His laziness made them all have to pull double duty, just to keep his fat ass fed,” The place at our feet is where you belong, surely, but you are useless there. You should make a damned effort, for once.”

Jaws pulled and tore at the meat again, lining his cheeks as he bit into the bread, his mouth nearly bursting with food as he chastised his brother,” I am grateful for every day that Grandfather had found me, after your mother left me to die. To think. I could be such a disappointment had her influence poisoned me, too,” Swallowing the lump of food, his throat stretched, before he spit the more of his venom,” Had Grandfather not found me, I have been better off to have died.”

A mouthful in again had him chewing before he mocked a revelation,” You might be better off to die, as it stands. Which isn't a grand stretch, considering how it is you feign strength. Yet, I've never seen a bit of it,” Black tendrils shook with his head as he aimed his eyes to Achsah, to whom watched him carefully with intense eyes,” Even she does agree with me, rare as it is, and not even she can deny your sloth.”

Ever more sharp his words came, and in his mind he thought nothing else other than to rip him to shreds where he could not tear at him in training. His anger, thick and poignant, even led a black hand to slap the food from Mithra's own,” Let the fool eat the dirt that he will sleep in if he continues to fail us. At least, in his grave, he'll find familiarity.”

Nazar had worked hard to bully Mithra, only to lead himself into irritation. Now worked up, he chose for silence, to let those words he'd spoken and those things he'd done to sink into Mithra. If his brother wasn't going to work, as all of them had to, then he didn't deserve kindness. Not even the kindness that Ohja graciously offered them all. His grandfather, he knew, was too soft on Mithra. The jealousy had reached into him with the question of why, and in the end, he had decided that it was for a greater reason every time. Nazar was simply just better than Mithra, and the higher standards were something he could attain and surpass. Mithra, the dumb oaf, didn't have it in him to be great. 

His backhanded pity for poor, pathetic Mithra was quickly brought to a halt, when Grandfather stood and beckoned their eyes to him.

Glacier sights followed Ohja as he spoke, grease slathered on his maw and crumbs dappled on his chest. Nazar soaked up every single word as truth. How could he not? Just as Mithra's mother had left him to die, so too had his father. Of all his other sins, that was one enough to bring Nazar to convince himself that this little clan of broken family truly meant something far greater than what he could have had, and what could have been should suffer for purposefully removing him.

Young eyes looked up to the man that preached before them all, following his form with nativity as Ohja rounded the fire and finally stood before him. What a sight it was to behold, as if the gods themselves knew what they were doing. Nazar breathed quietly to his grandfather's pain, breathed to his explanation, and breathed to his declaration. Each new inhalation into his lungs was far more enthusiastic than the last, each word from his grandfather's mouth formatting Nazar's mental understanding of what truly was.

Three days.

Shaamah had to die. He deserved it. Everything Nazar had worked for was coming to a head. Everything he'd suffered for was winding together, for one moment in three days, where he could fix everything that was wrong. Where he could get his second chance, and didn't have to sleep beneath broken rooftops, ruined alleys, and slummy campsites just to get by. He would earn his title of King, to a land he'd never been. There he would go and reap his reward. A kingdom he could sow of his own, where Ohja would stand at his side, and he would be a King. Lord Nazar they would call him, of the Gray Paw Army. Ohja's old stories had never fallen on deaf ears, as long as Nazar was there to listen.

The tension in him rose with each muscle, corded and thick, even in his young age. His body rippled with unspoken enthusiasm as Ohja reached a lull again, the wild rush in his voice of gods and triumph carried off into the calling owls of the night. Nazar could feel it, in every part of him, just as Ohja said. In his heart. In his skin, where his hair stood on end. In his stomach, the sunken feeling weighed deeper by his fullness.

A moment of prayer was called for and on instinct Nazar dipped his nose to the earth and shut his eyes tightly. Each prayer was to any god that would listen, his pleas reaching out from his spirit and yearning to touch something greater than the mortal world could ever offer,'' Let there be battle, and let me overcome those that threaten your graces,” The quiet murmur uttered in breaths from his maw,” Allow me to cure the world and live forever in your mighty name. Gods of creation and war, I pray to thee. Of fortune, and bounty, and strength, and of mind. Be my steady arm, my keen eye, and my shield to pain. I am your servant and thy will be done,” Sights popped open to catch the last of Ohja's goodnight wishes.

Nazar could not help the grin that newly painted his shaded face, looking beyond his pathetic brother into a man that embodied what true greatness was,” Grandfather, you have my word.”


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#4
[+000]
Ooc:

Memories. What did he have but memories? The large boy tried in vain valiant attempt to appear smaller than he was. Not understanding really that this truly was what his brother sought. His destruction, the cutting off of his knees, giving their Grandfather cause to turn a grimace upon him rather than a smile.

Instead, Mithra clung to the words that his grandsire spoke, with a desperate, pleading sort of energy. He willed them to be true, he needed them to be true. The greying man couldn’t be the same as those he’d come from. Sickly, the bile churned in his empty stomach, still filled out with its baby fat. Though he ate no more or less than Achsah and Nazar, Mithra’s weight did not seem to shift, no matter what task or direction Grandfather gave to him, Mithra appeared to grow no stronger, nor did he gain any semblance of skill in what he practiced.

He was no warrior. The great size and bulk bestowed upon him by the gods was wasted.

This was a truth that Nazar did not need to poke and needle him with, for this Mithra could see for himself with wide open eyes.

A tragedy it was, that his memories, the only light in his dreams, had turned out to be so false. Mithra had remembered another boy, who he had played with. A brother. When his mother’s harsh, uncompromising words had struck him down, proclaiming his uselessness, and his half sister’s judging stares had made him feel so small, Mithra had clung to those memories of laughter in the night, when he had whimpered into his furs.

Another cruel joke spoken with his name upon its lips. Mithra was coming to realize that this was his dynamic. The lot of his life was to be japing fuel for other, stronger, men.

He did not flinch, insensate, to the pebbles flung in his direction, though, it was futile to hope that this would persuade his stronger sibling to cease. Reaction, or a lack, each would prompt an increase of hostility. The first for being weak enough to capitulate, the second in anger that the anticipatory hunger was left unfulfilled. A play thing he remained, for Nazar to slake his sadistic desires upon. Grandfather did not intervene, and Achsah just stared, with her cold, uncaring eyes.

Laziness was not what he aspired towards, it was a poor gift of fate that he tired more swiftly than Nazar, that his kicks and blows lacked passion and determination. There was not an aspiration there to hurt his brother, unlike the reverse. Mithra tried as hard as he could, it just wasn’t enough, and he was easily eclipsed by his more robust, powerful relations.

Bread. They broke it together, at Grandfather’s prompting. For Mithra it was tasteless, ashes upon his tongue and cloying, choking in his gullet. Given all of his bullied title as glutton, his bites were small, and he chewed every mouthful slowly before swallowing with much difficulty. His appetite was tiny, almost non-existent.

The boy found it hard to attribute any of this to his frail memories. The brother remembered was dead, and it was a thick, unyielding kind of grief that languished in his chest, sitting like a rock upon his throat. Or had his nighttime dreams been just that, dreams? Had he created it through a wish for something soft and simple.

His leg caught upon the trickster’s foot, and Mithra stumbled, catching himself only just. Hunching more his shoulders, Mithra ducked his head, shrinking in upon himself as he always did, as he always had, no words of protest coming from between his dark lips. Similarly, he grabbed for his meat when Nazar sought to slap it from his hands, and was not so lucky this time as it tumbled into the grass. Stooping quickly to retrieve it, he shuffled as far away as he could get from his sibling. It would not truly matter where he sat, Nazar would turn his unsolicited attentions upon Mithra whether he was seated beside him or across the clearing.

Tasting no better than the bread had done, Mithra worried at the fibers of it with his teeth, tearing small shreds lest the rolling in his guts come to fruition and he lost the paltry meal to the nausea. Nazar would really gain something to mock him for then. Weakling.

Now, Grandfather was speaking again, gifting them with his attention and love. Mithra was rapt, whiskers trembling with fervor, to listen to the aged man speak. The soft, pleasant tones of his voice were calming, a comfort. What was said, gave him less comfort, but even this, Mithra agreed internally, was a thing that was necessary, twisted and warped as his perceptions were.

Grandfather was right. Even Mithra, on his solo journey, had run into people with a name they spoke in fear. Of actions and deeds that turned the god’s ire. Or so he had been led to believe. Mithra was easy to persuade, gullible in his severe yearning to be loved and accepted. Ohja’s pain was his own in those moments, the betrayal felt by blood and bone, Mithra almost felt he could understand in some vague, indistinct way.

When he was included in Grandfather’s zeal, to the spoken names of Kings and divinity, last in line of course, but still, included all the same, Mithra was alive and breathless, watching the flames seemingly bend for the older man as he proselytized. He shuddered, overcome with the glorious tale woven for him, wanting nothing more than for it to be true, to live up to the ideal that was expected of him.

He could feel it, in that moment, and almost forgot about his brother’s bullying, his aunt’s unforgiving stare, and the fight that loomed, a terrifyingly dark cloud upon his horizon. Three days, and it would be over. Beyond this, Mithra felt the concreteness of himself fading into obscurity.

When, head tilted, in prayer, Mithra did not mutter aloud his appeal but kept it inside where it could not be used against him. Give me strength, he pleaded, Help me overcome this, it was nothing more than a young boy’s fervent begging.

The last askance, Mithra’s eyes darted, swiftly, to but briefly search the same yellow that was his own, and offer a hasty nod before lowering them again, focusing upon his clasped hands. Sleep would come fitfully and only after hours of laying, tireless despite his exhaustion.




When I awoke the moon still hung, the night so black that the darkness hummed; I raised myself, my legs were weak, I prayed my mind be good to me
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#5
ooc

For as powerful as Achsah's presence was in the small camp, the way in which she sat made her seem much more minuscule. Knees tightly tucked to her chest, forearms pressed them closer, and palms gripped the curve of her calves while fingers were pressed in the crook of her knee. Without a single thing spoken throughout the day, nor into the night, her form was nothing more than a statue. Frozen, if even barely breathing, as embers lit the aloof glaze in her eye.

With each instance of words that defined her relation to him, her blade sank deeper into the gullet of her mother's, that final gaze into her eyes. Dead, with every real right to the honor. Liberated from her sin, as so Ohja preached, and Achsah had to believe it. Anything less than the right reason, would destroy her and the militant machine that she had become.

Not even Nazar's foolish games could pull Achsah from her distant state as she conserved herself, her energy, and what slim definition was left of her mind. It was only Ohja's call that summoned her into action, and her movements were simply piloted by a baser instinct in her brain, surpassing conscious thought and delving into the realm of what she believed was simply puppetry. The gods would have her work as Ohja beckoned and there was little reason to protest it. It was simply easier to just do as expected.

Black hands didn't dare feel the warmth of the bread, nor did her face taste the heat on her skin. Only the physical whisper of something there, on her paws, that was real. She had grown used to this life, this daily dying, and so she knew the gods to bless her with this boon. A shield to her pain, as they oft prayed. To each of her nephews, she handed their bread, before she took her own. The little loaf found its place at her side, resting on the rotten log where she sat, and eyes returned to the fire a second time.

Only when the meat had finished cooking through, to rid it of it's evil and change it into something nourishing, did she slide her blade free of it's sheath. As easily as it had torn her mother's throat, it sunk within the charred flesh and sliced pieces away from the spit. They fell into her hand and she placed them on the fabric that once brimmed with bread. Blood seeped with beads of oil from the brown fibers, and the fabric grew dark with the wetness that soaked into it's threads. As she worked, she felt herself returning to her body. It was in proper time to hear Ohja's honey soaked order.

Her stomach wrenched into her throat, but her visage showed no instance of this as she returned it to where it came. In her hands, she plated the meat and the final loaf of bread, for Nazar's awarded meal. As she passed the flames, Mithra stumbled and shriveled into a knot, but it garnered no attention from her. The truth in it all was, despite how her gods protected her so, she simply could not care. Concern for her nephews was something to be exploited. Plus, the both of them were irritating in their own right.

If ever she questioned that she was alive in her own body, it wasn't when the piercing of her furious gaze met Nazar's snatching hands,” Don't find yourself alone, Nazar,” Her voice warned with a eerie calm, rolling with a hushed growl at its finish. It was a threat that she knew he wasn't stupid enough to question. She had made her name by her own merit in their camp, and she stood above the two bastard boys that Ohja had scrounged up from nowhere and nothing.

Without the need to solidify her claim, she returned to her place to cut at what was left of the meat on the spit. Removing it from the fire, she worked to take every sliver from every tendon she found. The nearer she reached to the marrow rich bone, the more familiar a shape it seemed. It did not take long to recall the clothing he'd brought in before they're camp was righted, or the lack of goods to barter for fresh bread.

The reality of it sank in with a shallow influence and the surface deep concern for what her nephews ate seemed as vibrant as her pelt. Gray, muted, and dull. Nazar's endless yammering drew more of her attention than the food that rested from it's heat on top of the bread beside her. The background sound of the blue-eyed boy's ceaseless bitching found her mind elsewhere to escape it. Gold sights reached up to the skies in an attempt to take a glance at her own brain, the darkness there far more interesting than the complaining she was made to endure, but when the rolling of her orbs stopped, something had caught her eye.

Brilliant, yet fiery suns faced the space between stone and verdant summer greenery, and there her eye lingered. She should see him stiffen. Watched as pupils dilated. Read his mind through his eyes as he froze. For a moment, she debated within herself while her head canted in the interest of how differently things might be. However, without a word, her sights found Nazar and her muzzle followed slowly after. She returned to this camp from an astral place, and continued as if there was nothing more but the fire between them.

Harsh gilded eyes of gold met the brash boy, but as it came, Nazar's attention had reached her, too. He barked on about how his brother was so feeble, and all sorts of carnival calls to stir the pot.

He was right, though. Mithra was dead weight.

Achsah's workload had not been doubled at the finding of Mithra, but it had tripled. Ohja made it her purpose to care for the boys, train them, spar with them, get them into town to trade or thieve what they needed. She served them their food. She organized their time. Ohja might have supervised and educated them, but Achsah had done all of the work in the background of it. As Mithra did not pull his own weight out of whatever foolish motive that he summoned up from the dregs of his origin, Nazar and Achsah both had to pull it for him.

They were better off not to have found him, and so would he have been.

Instinct took hold of her again as Ohja rose to his feet. Almost mechanically, her eyes snapped to him, her attention on him in full. His speeches meant something, she knew it, but it wasn't in the way they had been before.

How much life there was in the old man's eyes.

Their quarry's name was mentioned, but it did not stir in her chest as it did her father's. The scene in which the man who murdered the harlot, a wench that ran to spit out a brat and crawl back into dear Ohja's loving embrace, came to the front of her mind. That kid had been lucky. Nazar and Mithra were not so fortunate. An image of a battered body, torn out of something more cold and cruel than malice could ever be had stayed with her. It was a lesson. A warning.

That image. She could become it.

As if controlled by thread, her head bowed as did the rest of them. What thoughts she buried in her silence found purchase there, in the quiet moment where Ohja could not reach her. In the place that only she might speak to his deities and summon something far darker than Ohja's vital teachings. Sights found the world again as the gentle paws of the aged man rustled the emerald blades beneath him.

Her whole body froze as the electric fire of his hand stole her vitality with a simple touch. The reflection of the fire faded from her eyes as her breath was stolen in her lungs. It was as if the life was ripped from her as quickly as he had come to pass, and she was left there in his wake. A stone statue, heavy lidded. A mind so distant that his plea for honor among them could never have reached her ears.

Three days.


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