[RO] from sea to shore, we're seeking more
25th October 2020. Somewhere south of Nova Scotia.

She would be loath to admit it to anyone, but she was tired of being at sea.

The days were not the same, and they didn't blur together, exactly, but they were endless, and she felt adrift.

The rocky shores they'd encountered in their luckless journey had not given her any sense of grounding, and though those delays on land had not been short in the least, Bluebonnet felt that they were the biggest factor in her weariness.

They'd been away from home for so long, and yet they still weren't where they were supposed to be? She knew in her heart that none of it was her fault, but it still felt like it was. No matter how they struggled against it and tried to take their fates into their own hands, luck was ever a factor at sea, and maybe the sea considered her bad company.

It had been moody the last few days, too.

The wind of the late October morning was sharp and biting, but not very salty. The waves around them churned steadily, and she thought that perhaps they were too wild for the wind to pick up any salt.

Instead, the air smelled cold and empty, with the occasional hint of sweetness, but it did not smell like seaweed or algae. Bluebonnet didn't know what the sweetness was, but it, along with the murky color of the sky, was another sure sign of poor weather to come.
Again, again, again.

The dog pulled her cloak closer around her. The edges of it flapped wildly in the wind, but she held on to it tightly. It had almost gone overboard too many times in the last few months, but she wouldn't let the sea take it. She'd mourn its loss too much, and this journey had been so long and difficult — she didn't want to hate the ocean.

She couldn't stand the idea of branding it an enemy for more than a few days at a time. And maybe it was childish, but if the sea took the cloak that her sister had made for her, Blue was sure she would curse it for a while.

"You look troubled," came a voice from behind her.

Bluebonnet sighed and drew in another long breath of sickly sweet ocean air. "Another storm's coming," she said.

"Yeah," Hurricane said, coming up beside her to look over the edge of the ship. "I'm bad luck, huh?"

"Your name's bad luck, anyway," Bluebonnet mumbled. "I hope this one isn't a hurricane, though."

"Probably won't be," the old man said matter-of-factly. "It'd be calmer now, if it were the case. It'll be a lot of rain, but maybe not so much wind, I think."

"How far do you think we are from land?"

"Can't be more than a week or so now."

"One last storm, then... unless it's big enough to blow us off course."

"Just keep your bearings straight," Hurricane said, seeming to force a smile. "We'll find our way. You keep your chin up, captain."

"My chin is up," Blue said indignantly. "I'm standing up straight and looking ahead and everything's going to be fine."

"That's the spirit," the older canine said, smile deepening into a genuine grin.

"But I swear to god, the next place we make landfall is where we're going to camp. Whether that's Portland or Freetown or whatever, I don't care. We're close enough! This has gone on long enough."

"I hear ya," Hurricane said. "Even sailors get tired of being at sea."

"I'm just tired of storms," the captain corrected. "Not the sea."

Hurricane laughed, a half-bark, half-coyote yip. "It's okay to admit it, you know," he said. "All sailors get to that point — the sea is infuriating. You love it, but you need time apart, sometimes. Being joined at the hip all the time doesn't make for a better relationship, you know. You both need some breathing room sometimes."

Bluebonnet didn't respond immediately.

The sky was lightening slowly. The wispy clouds around them weren't enough to block the rising sun just yet, but they were thickening slowly. The waves breaking against the side of the ship were getting higher, and occasional flecks of salty foam floated up to the deck.
None of these were things she hated, but why did they have to signal towards the ominous and inevitable?

"I suppose I'll get breakfast ready," Hurricane said. "The portions are never right when Tobi does it."

Blue snorted softly. "He's worried about using everything up, that's all."

"We're plenty stocked," the old coydog said, waving a dismissive hand as he started towards the galley. "We've had so many stops and chances to restock. We can always die at sea, but for us, at least, it won't be from an empty belly!"

"Reassuring," Blue said.

She turned back to the horizon as Hurricane disappeared below deck. She couldn't see land in any direction, though she knew it wasn't too far off to the west. They had followed the coastline all the way north, hoping that it'd keep them on track and shelter them from any serious storms. The latter hadn't really worked out as expected, but they weren't lost, at least.

They were almost there.

They were almost there.

1st November 2020. Mersey Cove.

It was too cold.

He had known this would be the case, of course, but the concept of it was different from the reality of it. And the reality of it was that cold was terrible, horrible, and without any redeeming qualities.

Tobi shivered again. His whole body shook. His breath was white and he would swear he could feel the frost nestled deep in his bones.

"Y'all right there?" Melrose asked gruffly.

"Great," Tobi grumbled back. "Stellar. Couldn't be better."

Melrose did not respond to his sarcasm, but half tossed and half draped a heavy fur throw across Tobi's shoulders. "Warm up and get back to work," the coydog said.

Tobi growled softly; the weight of the would-be cloak was more than he'd expected, but he clutched at the edges of the fur, eagerly drawing it around himself. A bubble of heat seemed to appear around him immediately, and the dog stopped shivering.

The forest before them was vast and seemed to stretch on forever. There were no signs of civilisation or canines. Except for a few hardy seabirds, the rocky shore was barren of life.

They had missed Portland and Freetown, though Bluebonnet insisted that they were near enough, so surely there were locals they could trade with and learn from regardless. They'd wasted enough time, she'd said, and they needed a proper place to overwinter, because they sure as hell weren't spending the year's end at sea.

Tobi didn't disagree. He didn't know if Bluebonnet was right about the towns' proximity, but Hurricane seemed to agree with her, and Tobi didn't purport to know more about directions and the sea than the sailors and cartographers. He definitely didn't want to spend the winter at sea, but neither was he eager to spend it in this place, wherever this place was.

The birds on the shore called out ominously. Their cries were long and drawn out, like they weren't sure about something.

"Still huddling in the corner?" Finn called out. "Stop slacking and help me tie the ship down already."

"To what?" Tobi grumbled. "There's nothing but rocks down there, and they're all soaked and slippery. There's no way the ropes will hold—"

"If we tie it to enough rocks, it'll be fine!" Finn said, then laughed. "Probably. Wouldn't it be hilarious if we lost the ship in the night? Ha!"

Tobi growled and threw off the fur blanket all at once, knowing that he'd never manage it if he shed the weight and heat a little at a time. The air was still frigid all around him, but it was more tolerable this time.

Finn shoved a coil of rope into his arms and then leapt overboard, holding onto the ledge for a moment before dropping down onto the rocky sand below. The dog slid on his landing and fell on his ass, but Tobi somehow didn't have the energy to laugh.

The length of rope Tobi had been given was already tied to the ship on one end, so after taking a deep breath, he followed suit, climbing over the side of the ship carefully before dropping down onto the beach.

He also fell on his ass, and Finn did have the energy to laugh.

Tobi was sure that whatever reasons he'd thought of in the spring for coming on the expedition were stupid. The winter was going to be long.
3rd November 2020. Ethereal Eclipse.

A thin fog curled and crept along the forest floor on the cool November morning. The mist from her breath vanished immediately, perhaps sinking to join its brethren on the ground. The woods were still and quiet, and she reveled in the majesty and mystery of it.

Nothing could be more different from the swampy groves and pine forests of her home, and she could feel the excitement becoming more and more a tangible feeling in her chest as she walked slowly through the underbrush.

There were no paths in the forest, and it grew thick in many places. Her pace was slow, but it gave her ample time and opportunity to take everything in.

Everything was so vibrant!

Scarlet red and deep orange and bright yellow still clung to shorter trees while sage green towered over them from the much taller conifers. Dawnsong had heard about the color-changing trees before, but to finally see them! She could feel her heart soaring. Everything was so beautiful!

The fog covered the blanket of leaves that had already been shed, but Dawnsong could feel them beneath her feet: a strange, damp cushion in all the places where thick bushes and brambles didn't cover the earth. How strange it was to not have simple grass and dirt (or mud, more often) beneath her feet.

It was cold, but the forest was so colorful. It was still early, but she was sure that when the sun fully rose, there would be birds and wildlife aplenty. If the flora was so vibrant, why shouldn't the fauna be as well? What creatures lived here? It would not be the alligators and wild pigs of her home, surely, but what if there were some relatives? How big did their deer get? How impressive were their antlers in the winter? Were there turkeys here?

Dawnsong pulled out her brand new journal. The thick tome was bound in sturdy leather and had a hundred and fifty pages, she'd been told. It was an expensive gift — the cream paper was smooth and eager to take on words and drawings: the quality was excellent and difficult to come by. Her grandfathers had gifted it to her for her journey, and she was grateful for their support even though she knew they didn't understand.

Oh, she couldn't wait to start filling up the book, but where to even begin?

What was the name of this forest? Where, precisely, had they landed? How could she begin her documentation without first knowing these things? The captain insisted they couldn't be too far from the local communities, but there seemed to be no sign of Luperci on the shore or in the forest. How far was "not too far"?

She put the journal back into her satchel and continued on.

Slowly, the fog seemed to sink back into the ground, revealing the littered carpet of the forest floor. Here and there, she saw rodents of various sizes scurrying to hide from the corner of her eye. Birds were waking. The cry of crows sounded loudly through the trees, low and gutteral.

Dawnsong was nervous all of a sudden.

The forest was rising to greet the day, and she no longer had the comfort of being alone.

Wildlife didn't scare her, of course; she was perfectly capable of depending herself, or at least, running away from, rogue deer or even angry boars and black bears — but if there were local Luperci, she wasn't sure she wanted to encounter them alone.

What if they weren't friendly?

This place seemed so isolated and backwater... there were no houses and no roads. If it had been empty even in the time of humans, then why should Luperci settle there? Those that might had to be strange or outcast or crazy.

Her crew was, perhaps, strange and outcast and crazy. Dawnsong didn't really know much about the others, but surely at least one of those terms applied to each of them. Hurricane and Melrose were strange. Finn, Tobi, and the captain all seemed a little crazy. And she was outcast.

The rest of them were eager to meet the locals, if there were any, but Dawnsong remained apprehensive.

Her pace slowed further. She was only a few miles from the beach and she had only her satchel with her, which she could secure close enough to her body that it would remain with her even if she needed to shift and run. She could take care of herself.

The crows got louder as the sun continued to rise.

The sky was a pale blue. There were a few wispy, grey clouds, but they were nothing like the stormy ones they'd encountered while at sea. Despite the cold nipping of the wind, the day looked like it would be mild and pleasant.

It was a perfect day to explore and to begin filling her journal.

There were footsteps in the distance.

The soft carpet of leaves dampened the overall sound, but the occasional fresh, crunchy leaf canceled out the effect. The footfalls were heavy enough to be Luperci, but not heavy enough to be a deer or horse.

Dawnsong tensed and held still, bracing herself carefully against a nearby tree.

The footsteps were to her north, but she couldn't tell in what direction they were headed. After a few moments, voices drifted towards her. Two of them. They were getting closer.

What to do?

She was supposed to be scouting the area. She was supposed to be searching for locals. But oh, it would've been so much better a morning if she could just document the trees and the squirrels! Let Melrose or Finn or the captain find the strangers. Why did it have to be her?

Dawnsong remained where she was as the voices got louder. She swept her large ears forward and tried to eavesdrop.

"—stay out here. It's quiet and we can take care of ourselves, anyway," a female voice said.

"Could be dangerous though," her male companion said with a sigh. "They said the star fell here and that it's been shaking ever since. It it really much better than the other side of the mountains?"

"Maybe, maybe not. But how far would we need to go to escape the ground shakes? That one fellow said that the ground going across the lake wasn't there a few years ago — it wasn't even a lake a few years ago! If all the ground is connected anyway, then there's no escaping it."

"So you think—" The male stopped.

Dawnsong tried to sink into the bark of the tree, but the large white wolf had seen her already. The wolf's companion, a much smaller hybrid with mostly dog and coyote features, turned towards Dawnsong as well.

"Oh," the female said. "Hello."

Dawnsong hesitated a beat, expecting that the wolf would say something as well. When he didn't, she swallowed and echoed an unsteady "H-Hello."

"Are you all right?" the hybrid woman asked. "You look rather nervous."

Dawnsong felt a rush of shame. She was too easy to read and her inadequacy showed too clearly, even to strangers. She let go of the tree and tried to stand up straight, turning to face the others directly. Even she had pride! She couldn't reflect poorly on her family or her crew or her home. Not on purpose, at least.

"I'm alright..." she said. Her voice was soft, but she found her strength as she continued. "I'm... my crew and I landed on the coast south of here a few days ago," she explained tentatively. "My name is Dawnsong Pembroke. Are the two of you from here?"

"Oh?" the coydog stranger said. "Your crew? That means you all arrived by boat then?" She smiled. "Did you mean to land here? It's a bit out of the way, you know."

Dawnsong's face continued to heat up. She clutched her satchel to ground herself. "Is it? Are there no Luperci here?"

"Well, there's a pack north of here, but I think most of the others in the area are on the mainland these days."

"Mainland? Is this an island?" Dawnsong asked anxiously.

"Not quite," the coydog said. "It's a funny-shaped piece of land jutting out from the mainland though, as far as I can tell. Oh—" she looked momentarily embarrassed. "My name is Gemini and this here is Forest." She gestured broadly at the wolf towering behind her.

"We used to live on the other side of the peninsula, but then we saw a mountain slide into the sea and figured it was a good idea to hike it outta there."

"A-A mountain...? Into the sea...?"

"It's a long story," Gemini laughed. "There are occasional earth shakes on this side too, we've been told, and maybe that's why the packs have moved to the mainland, but I don't figure it's really safer there than here."

"Earth shakes?"

Gemini looked at her curiously. "None of those where you're from? Where is that, by the way?"

"Savannah," Dawnsong said. "It's a long way south of here."

"Never heard of it," Gemini said with a shrug. "Well, sometimes the ground here shakes a lot. Sometimes it's not too bad — just a bit of rumbling. Sometimes it gets dangerous — you'll get knocked to your feet. The earth can split open and swallow trees, or they'll fall over. Buildings will get damaged and fall, too, so you'd best take care not to get trapped under them."

"That sounds awful..."

"Lots of things in life are awful," Gemini said with another laugh. "You learn to live with them."

"This doesn't sound like a good place to live," Dawnsong said quietly.

"Well, there's plenty to like, too,"[b] the coydog said cheerfully. [b]"The prey here are plentiful since Luperci have mostly abandoned this area. How many in your crew? You'll all get fat on all the deer here."

"W-What about you two? No pack?"

"No," Gemini said. "We're not terribly opposed, but we like our freedom too. We can take our of ourselves, anyway."

Dawnsong couldn't really understand. She did not feel like she really fit in with her packmates or family at Pembroke, nor with the rest of the crew on the Double Down, but neither could she imagine being on her own, either. She was poor at making conversation and often didn't know what to say to others, but she liked being around people — she liked watching them, observing from her corner, laughing at their antics and jokes, even if she wasn't participating directly. It'd be so lonely to not have a place to go home to.

But she didn't press. The coydog woman seemed genuine enough in her satisfaction. She had her wolf friend, anyway, or mate? Dawnsong couldn't tell, but it seemed such an odd pairing.

"What did your crew come for?" Gemini asked.

"To explore," Dawnsong said. "And to trade, but mostly to learn."

"It's a long way to trade," the other woman said. "Casa di Cavalieri is the nearest pack, but even they're a long day's trot."

Dawnsong pulled out one of her older notebooks and jotted a quick note with a stick of charcoal. "What about the other packs?"

"Salsola's not too far from Casa," Forest said, speaking for the first time. "You'd have to go around the side of the lake though, so it's a longer walk than it should be."

Gemini nodded. "Can't sail there either, with the new chunks of land making up the bridge."


"Land has been coming up from the sea, maybe as an effect of all the earth shakes we've been having lately — now you can walk to the mainland without going the long way around, but it's still a long walk. I heard the two packs on the mainland are both about two or three days walk from the other side of the bridge."

Dawnsong frowned, but took notes dutifully. "You seem to know a lot about the area..."

Gemini smiled and shrugged. "I'm happy to help, but it's been a while since I've been on this side of the peninsula. A lot's changed already."

"Would you be able to come back to camp with me? I'm sure my captain would love to speak with you both and learn more about the area. Our cartographer will probably be very excited too..."

The coydog woman chuckled. "What a fancy word. Don't know what it means, but it sounds interesting enough. What do you think?" She glanced back a moment to her companion.

The white wolf shrugged. "Don't see the harm," he said, but added, "Still don't think it's a good idea to stay here long-term though."

"Don't be a worrywart," Gemini said cheerfully. "If another star falls, we're dead either way, so we might as well make some friends instead of running away."

Forest frowned. "That's not what you said when the mountain disappeared," he said, and continued before the smaller canine could interject: "But we don't have to make any decisions now."

He looked at Dawnsong. "Lead the way then."

Dawnsong swallowed and nodded. She didn't want to turn her back to the wolf, but it didn't seem like she had much of a choice. She'd been the one to invite them to camp, after all.

The hybrid turned and started back the way she'd come. At least the strangers had confirmed that the forest was otherwise unoccupied and the nearest locals were a day away. There was the chance that other loners occupied the woods, but Dawnsong clung to the hope that her next excursion would be free from further Luperci encounters.

At least the captain would be happy. Maybe she wasn't useless to the crew after all.
3rd November 2020. Ethereal Eclipse.

He knew the forest had to end eventually, but he had been moving in nearly a straight line for over four hours and he had not come to its borders yet. His pace was not particularly fast — he needed to ensure he didn't miss any signs of Luperci if he encountered them, but it seemed there was nothing to be missed, anyway.

There was plenty of other life though. Finn had given two large herds of deer a wide berth. Of course they'd arrive right in the middle of rutting season, when the bucks were most aggressive and dangerous with hardened racks of pointed spears and far too much adrenaline. The does were kept well towards the center of the sprawling groups, well-protected by their men.

Melrose would have a challenge ahead of him, but Finn intended to help as much as he was allowed to. They were short-handed and he knew they couldn't really count on Dawnsong to do proper scouting, but surely Bluebonnet didn't intend for Melrose to provide for all of them alone?

The crows squawked noisily in the trees as he continued north. Where were the other birds? Finn didn't have any particular feelings about songbirds, but they at least provided variety in background noise. Crows and gulls were both loud, obnoxious, and too daring for their own good — the dirty scavengers on the beach had already tried to steal food on several occasions. It was a shame that there wasn't an archer among them, or they'd be feasting on bird roast already.

There was a break in the leafy carpet ahead where an animal had slipped in the mud. Finn slowed his brisk walk. He was no tracker, but he knew enough to recognise certain animal prints. There was a large smear in the ground where something had fallen and then stood back up. The scrambling of feet as the animal righted itself was too distorted to read, but upright prints as it finally sauntered off were clearly imprinted in the soft mud: bear.

Finn frowned. Bears weren't common around Savannah, and he'd never encountered one himself, but he'd seen evidence of them on excursions that took him even a few days north of the Coalition territories and had had them described to him by more than one Carolina member. They were reportedly cowardly, but he wasn't sure if that was just boasting from storytellers.

The bear's prints were large, compared to a dog's, even in their bipedal form, and its claws left behind prominent marks.

Finn inhaled deeply. The print seemed fresh — the mud was still somewhat soft — but the air was too damp to pick up a proper scent. Or it could just be his lack of skill at proper tracking. It smelled like rain again, though perhaps not as substantial as their last storm at sea, which had already been much weaker than the two prior.

The sky through the trees was a grey-blue and half-covered in clouds, though the clouds seemed thin and uncommitted.

The brown dog sighed and continued on, carefully walking around the swath of mud.

It was not terrible to be in a new place. Finn hadn't really been sure what to expect after the long and frustrating journey, but the chilly air was strangely comfortable and the vast emptiness of whatever patch of backwater country they'd landed in made him feel small and insignificant in a way that... felt nice, actually.

Alone in the woods, there was no one to impress and no one to judge him, no one to witness whatever acts of bravery or cowardice he demonstrated — and yet the small crew of the Double Down was under his protection alone, and he alone was responsible for their safety. He was everything and nothing at once.

There was a comfortable, almost sleepy quality to his old patrols at home, taking him through familiar streets and familiar pines. There, he was a part of a larger force, and very little truly depended on his efforts. He could put on a show as needed, demonstrate skill in the narrow areas he excelled at, and get praise and promotion accordingly. It was easy, boring.

Savannah was reputable enough that outsider Luperci knew well enough to take the proper routes in, and even many of the wild predators knew to keep off their designated hunting grounds and farms. Carolina members kept their skills sharp mostly by sparring with each other, but Finn had never felt that there was danger or challenge at home. They had their unspoken hierarchy, even in sparring, and he did not care to break rank. He only needed to improve enough to keep ahead of those who had always been beneath him.

Finn was insecure and arrogant and terrible at rising to a challenge because he couldn't stand the idea of failing. He knew this about himself, knew it kept him stagnant and inert, knew he needed to grow out of it, somehow, but knowing was only the first step of anything. There were so many further steps to take.

Did he want to fight a mysterious bear? Not particularly. It would be a good story to tell, and maybe he could tell it regardless, but it was at least something different to consider. There was no one to spar with here, though Hurricane challenged him occasionally in jest. But still, he needed to stay sharp. If he could improve somehow, that would be best, but at the very least, he couldn't go home worse off than he was.

If he ever went home, anyway.

He didn't miss it. He didn't know that he wanted to stay there, in the middle of no where, but he didn't miss the Savannah heat or the smell of horses or the sticky humidity.

He walked another hour and the forest continued on and on. The crows quieted as the sun began to set and Finn turned around at last. The view behind him looked just like the view ahead of him, save for the invisible trail he'd left for himself. Even with the pre-rain dampness, the air was cold and pleasant. It was a different sort of humidity from home.

The dog checked that his satchel and knife were secured against his body, then knelt down and took a deep stretch against the leafy ground. His spine curved inward towards the small of his back, pulling the tight muscles there and urging them to loosen. His shape changed as he yawned, muscular arms becoming more compact while still retaining much of their definition.

He shook his head back and forth, stretching the muscles in his neck as his body settled into his halfway form. Looking forward again, he grinned to himself and wagged his tail once. He only ever thought so much and so deeply when left alone too long without much else to think about.

But now work was over, and all that was left for the day was a long run, a hearty dinner, and perhaps a quick fuck before bed; none of those required much thinking. There were a million things he could do to better himself, but whether he'd get around to them was a problem for another day.
3rd November 2020. Ethereal Eclipse.

As they followed her through the woods towards the shore, Gemini kept pace with the girl, grilling her about where she'd come from and what things were like there. Forest followed at a polite distance. He kept an eye out, as always, for any small dangers on the horizon, but he was also acutely aware that the girl, Dawnsong, seemed afraid of him, so he thought it best not to crowd her.

He wasn't sure that the girl really liked Gemini either, but she was at least more comfortable with her and appeared to be answering the onslaught of questions as best she could.

Forest listened quietly and catalogued the information away, perhaps to be forgotten later. Savannah was far enough away that it wasn't worth remembering about. He had no desire to go anywhere that doesn't see snow in the winters, and he did not trust any boat to properly brave the sea with him aboard.

Gemini teased him for being afraid, but he did not find it embarassing to admit that he didn't trust his life with anything he couldn't communicate with, which included horses and boats. Those that deluded themselves otherwise nevertheless always had stories that proved that their faith was ill-placed.

Sailors liked to say that they understood the sea and that they were skilled at controlling their boats, but every one had a story about a bad storm, or some comrade they'd lost to their cruel mistress.

Horses, strangely, seemed to have become a prized mode of transportation by many, but as far as the wolf could tell, they did not have the endurance of a canine in any form. A horse could gallop faster than they could, but for how long? A mile? Two? Forest could run at a good pace for a solid hour if he needed to — longer, perhaps, in his youth.

This was how they'd always hunted, after all. They followed prey until the prey tired. Horses were not so different from deer, and so they tired like their smaller, split-hooved relatives. That anyone would choose to perch atop a frightened, beaten down ("tamed") beast when they could walk on their own feet seemed ridiculous to Forest, but he supposed there was a sort of (unnecessary) display of power and wealth in the choice.

Canines were boasting their superiority by forcing other creatures to do their bidding — not satisfied with simply taking their own cousins for slaves, they've put shackles on their food as well. Packs and families and individuals flaunted their control and influence this way and it all became a complex dance of proxy dominance.

Why should they prove their worth with their own teeth and claws when they could line up their slaves and horses and crow about how great they are for having them? Why dirty themselves when others could get dirtied on their behalf?

Society seemed more and more to prefer these complicated dances of power, but Forest preferred simplicity.

He needed very little in life, and he was grateful every day that he could get everything he needed without reliance on others. Why did he need to prove worth or power? He could kill his own food and protect himself and his mate from those that would steal from or attempt to subjugate them. That was all he needed, and whether anyone else recognised his ability to provide for himself was irrelevant.

The wolf stopped suddenly.

Gemini turned a large ear to him and her face followed. "What's wrong?"

"Deer ahead," Forest said quietly. "Can't see them yet, but they're..." He took a deep breath and exhaled slowly. "Maybe a half mile ahead."

"You hungry?" Gemini asked, laughing softly.

Dawnsong looked like she was about to say something, but changed her mind and kept her maw shut.

Forest knew Gemini was joking, but frowned all the same. "Better to go around them," he said. "The bucks have their full racks now and I'd rather not be anywhere near one."

"How many are usually needed to take a deer?" the girl asked after all. "I know it's not advised to encounter one alone, but how dangerous are they?"

Forest looked at her, unsure for a moment whether she was joking or not, but from what he'd seen of her personality, that surely couldn't be the case.

"Pretty dangerous!" Gemini answered with another laugh. "Especially this time of year. As much as we'd prefer it to be so, they aren't helpless meat sacks. The antlers are fully developed by now and the males are really aggressive, so if you aren't careful you'll get speared."

The girl looked mortified.

"Have you never hunted before?" the coydog asked, blunt, but with no sense of judgment.

"N-No," Dawnsong admitted. Her voice became more quiet. "It's not my job to."


"I-I can catch rabbits!" the girl said. "If I need to..."

Gemini laughed. "That's good enough!"

"Rabbits are perfectly good," Forest agreed. He thought about smiling, but somehow felt that it would probably put the girl off more than it would help. "There's usually no reason for us to go after deer. It's far too much for the two of us, anyway.

"I wouldn't want to after a deer head-on without at least four. If it's alone, maybe fewer will do; if we need to pick one out from the herd, more. If it's a buck with full antlers, more; if a doe, fewer. If we're hunting traditionally with our teeth and claws on all fours, more. If we've got someone with arrows they know how to use, fewer. But deer are dangerous, and it's better to be more prepared than less, I think."

"T-There's food at camp," the girl blurted. "I'm sure the captain wouldn't mind sharing some in exchange for information. We have a lot of fish."

Gemini grinned. "Oh? Sounds lovely. I haven't had fish since summer. No rivers on this side of the peninsula and I haven't a clue how to fish out of the ocean."

Dawnsong smiled weakly. "The captain is a skilled fisher; all of our cache is from the sea."

"Do they taste salty like the water?" Gemini asked.

"Maybe a little," the girl said.

"We can go around the herd," Forest said, nodding. "Do you know how far we are from the camp? I don't think the deer will go towards the beach."

"Maybe another two miles."

"So add another mile to go around?" Gemini asked, looking at the white wolf.

He nodded.

"Let's go keep on then."

3rd November 2020. Ethereal Eclipse.

The camp was modest and fairly close to what Gemini had imagined.

The girl had given their numbers as six, and while the coydog considered at first that perhaps she wasn't telling the whole truth, the longer they spoke, the more that seemed unlikely.

Dawnsong was shy and anxious — if she was an actress, she was a stunning one. It was difficult to lie when nervous, but while that never guaranteed anything, by the time they detoured for the herd of deer, Gemini felt quite confident that they weren't going to be ambushed and enslaved once they reached camp.

Such a thing had only happened once and they had managed to escape, but, as those things tended to, the experience stayed with her and reminded her to be wary.

Gemini was sure, too, that Forest would've communicated any suspicions he had, but it was still a welcomed relief to see that her conclusion seemed correct: the girl's group only comprised five others, and they weren't there to do any harm.

It was a small clearing near the edge of the forest. A few simple deer-hide tents and a large, but very rough, lean-to made of fresh-cut logs made up the camp. Each structure was spaced a comfortable distance from the others and they were arranged around a firepit about three feet in diameter ringed carefully with stones. The fire itself was smaller; when they arrived, it burned delicately on a pile of dry branches.

A break in the nearby bushes revealed a small path towards the shore proper, already a little worn from regular use.

There was no one at the camp when they arrived. Dawnsong checked each of the tents quickly, then tossed a few fresh branches onto the fire. "Should've doused the fire if they were leaving," she mumbled softly to herself.

Gemini grinned. "I'm sure your friends are nearby," she said.

Dawnsong flattened her ears briefly in embarrassment, but nodded. "I'll call for the captain."

The black and white hybrid pulled her head back and let out a mid-tone, musical little howl; the sound reverberated lightly in her throat, making a strange, pleasant sort of yodel. It was beautiful for such a simple call, and Gemini was sure that the girl was a lovely singer, if she wasn't too nervous to sing in others' company.

A responding howl came from a very short distance away and just a few minutes later, they could hear snapping branches and crunching leaves as two Luperci came down the little path from the beach.

The first was a lively looking girl with a multi-colored coat, grey hair, and bright, brown eyes. She was followed by a surly-looking boy with very short black fur. They were both very clearly dogs, though the former seemed much more naturally equipped for the cold than the latter, who had a fur-lined jacket covering his upper half, but was shivering in spite of it.

"Dawnsong!" the first greeted. "Sorry about that. We'd just stepped away for a moment."

"Should've called ahead," the second grumbled. "Don't bring strangers in without warning! What the hell."

Dawnsong bowed her head at both of them and shook her head in apology. "You're right. I'm sorry; I didn't think — I should've called ahead."

"Don't worry about it," the first said, laughing. "Who are these fine folks, then?"

The girl raised her head only slightly and turned briefly to her guests. "This is Gemini and Forest," she said, gesturing in turn. "They're loners I ran into. They say the nearest pack is at least a day away, and have a lot of other general information about the area."

She then waved a hand towards her companions. "This is Captain Bluebonnet Mississppi, and Tobi Goodboy, our woodworker." After these introductions, Dawnsong moved to stand behind her captain, clearly trying to remove herself from further involvement.

Gemini nodded politely at Bluebonnet and Tobi, but she did not lower her head or give any indication that she recognised them as an authority. This was not a pack's land, and while they were guests at the camp, they need only move outside the little ring of tents to be back on neutral ground. They were equals here, as far as she was concerned, and she was pleased to see that Bluebonnet seemed to think very much the same.

"Pleased to meet you, Gemini, Forest," the captain said cheerfully, offering her hand to shake, which they both accepted casually.
Tobi gave each of them a sharp nod, but did not move to speak or interact further. He also sank back behind his captain, not wanting to be a part of the conversation, though he continued to watch them, glowering just a little bit.

Gemini was reminded a little of Forest, when he'd been younger, and grinned.

5th November 2020. Ethereal Eclipse.

He heard the clack of antlers long before the bucks came into view.

They came in a steady rhythm: a loud, violent clash to start, followed by a short stream of smaller clicks and scrapes as the individual prongs of the locked antlers pushed against each other. Then, there's a pause as the two combatants pull apart before the whole song starts anew. With each new refrain, the pair moved closer to him, unaware.

The deer were larger than the ones at home, or at least, their winter coats were thicker and plusher. He wouldn't be able to tell for sure how much more meat there was until he had one dead at his feet, but with any luck, it wouldn't be that much longer.

Melrose crouched in wait behind a thicket, carefully upwind from the oblivious deer. He was armed with an assortment of knives, but he preferred not to need them until it was time to butcher the kill.

Clack! Clack!

The deer were no more than thirty feet from him, which meant they were even closer to—

He wasn't quite sure how to describe the scream of a deer, but as loud as the snapping branches were, the cervine's voice was louder still. The unlucky animal's companion was gone in another breath, abandoning his rival to his fate and disappearing back through the trees.

Melrose stood from the thicket, his arms and legs still covered in dirt and mud from the morning spent digging a hole in the ground three feet deep. He approached it now, slowly, cautiously, knife in hand.

But if the deer could still leap, it would've leapt, even if it could only stagger and stumble once back on level ground.

He peered in. A half dozen sharpened spears had greeted the deer at the bottom of the pit; four of them were now embedded in the creature's underside. It thrashed violently when it saw Melrose, but this only worsened its condition. It knocked the other two spears to the side and tried to climb out of the hole, but it lost strength quickly and moaned in agony.

The coydog waited carefully. Even as it weakened, the buck still thrashed, swinging its dangerous head around unpredictably. There was no longer the steady rhythm of its familiar fight. If Melrose mistimed the kill, a rogue prong could take him down and then he'd fall into the hole with the deer. What a miserable end that would be.

He did not like watching the deer thrash and scream as it slowly bled itself out, driving the spears deeper as it continued to struggle. He supposed he could try to throw a knife at its throat, but even with the short distance between them, it was unlikely he'd be able to hit a spot perfect enough to end its misery faster — and then he'd just add to its agony.

Still, eventually, the deer's struggles slowed. Its tongue lolled out from its mouth as its breathing became increasingly laboured. And finally, Melrose waited for it to shake its head once more before leaping onto its back and sliding his faithful blade swiftly across the front of its neck.

The deer shuddered, then stilled.

Melrose jumped back onto solid ground and moved towards his thicket. Behind the thick brush, several ropes were tied tightly to a tree. He loosened them and pulled. One corner of a thick rope net rose from the bottom of the shallow pit and came up against the body of the buck.

The coydog then retied the rope and moved to a different, nearby tree to do the same. This he repeated again and again, rotating through the four corners of the net, pulling them up just a little bit at a time. Once the deer's weight was mostly being held up by the net, Melrose carefully climbed into the pit.

He threw the two unused spears out, then, with some effort, freed the other four from the belly of his fallen prey.

Pleased with his work, Melrose climbed back out of the pit and gathered his spears, setting them against one of the trees. He poured some water into his mouth from his canteen, then looked back at the deer.

In theory, he could loosen some of the rope, lower the front side of the buck down, then pull it towards even ground. With half the weight there then, he could lower the back half, then pull the full body onto solid ground. Melrose did not have a lot of raw strength though, and the deer weighed at least as much as he did, but probably more.

He thought he had a decent chance of it, but it was better to just call for help. The hard part was over. Finn was probably too far away on patrol, but Tobi or Blue could help him lower the deer and haul it back to camp for butchering. That was probably most efficient anyway — the other option was for him to butcher in the field, but there would only be so much he could carry back, and if he left the carcass unattended, who knew what scavengers would come?

The coydog took another drink from his canteen, then rose his maw to the sky.
5th November 2020. Broken Occident.

The edge of the coast was jagged and uneven, unstable in many places. Hurricane had never seen anything like it, and that in itself was fascinating to him.

The beach was more rock than sand, with sharp pebbles that had yet been softened by the sea. The ground along the shore felt unsteady, like the the rocks would give way at any moment, and he would sink straight into the ocean. It was no wonder there were no buildings or structures at all — perhaps they had all sunken into the sea, or the sea had pulled them into a deep grave.

In some places where the ground rose higher, sheer cliffs dropped straight down into the water. There were no places where the break seemed gradual and he thought vaguely that the cliffs looked like a stone that had been cleaved in half.

The rocky cliffs were filled with crooked cracks running up from the waves below, and even when they reached the top, they continued on, splitting the ground. There were seaweed and kelp and thousands of tiny barnacles on the cliffsides, but there were also strange plants that looked like they should've belonged in a grassy meadow — the flowers were wilted now, but the stalks remained, too tall for a crack in stone, with leaves too broad to face the constant wind.

He didn't know much about plants, but he knew that that one didn't belong there.

Seabirds did not seem to nest in the cliffs, but they were plentiful along the shore all the same. Where they had docked the ship, the beach gave way to forest within half a mile, but further east and west, the beach stretched on for longer before meeting the trees. Some areas transitioned instead into rolling hills dotted with shrubbery and tall bushes.

The land seemed to rise and fall on a whim, and more than once Hurricane found himself in the deep shadow of a hill or cliffside that seemed strange and unnatural.

He had seen mountains across the ocean, in the northern lands of Europe. Scandavania. The hills he found himself in now were nothing in comparison, but still — they were taller than anything to be found at home in Savannah.

Of their party, only Tobi and Dawnsong had never been away from their birthplace before. Hurricane thought that the former was probably enjoying the adventure more than he'd admit, but he wasn't as certain about the latter. She spoke little and seemed ill at-ease most days, but she'd been eager to head out from camp to explore all the same.

The girl was a hundred feet or so ahead of him on the grassy hill, knelt down to examine some plant.

Hurricane had seen many misfits in his time at Carnegie. Some eventually found their place — they and their peers made peace with their peculiarities and obsessions, with the former being more important than the latter. The strange child that accepted themselves, who was bold and forthright about their interests, no matter what anyone else said, thrived the most. But the strange child that was uncertain, who wanted to belong but couldn't, who didn't truly believe that it was okay to be different, often walled themselves away.

Like all pups in the last several generations, Dawnsong had spent many childhood days at Carnegie. Hurricane did not recall that she had been a misfit then. She and her three littermates had been lively and rambunctious, the spoiled granchildren of Pembroke's leaders.

The change must have come when the yearlings had finished their education and returned home fulltime to their pack.

"What've'ya got there, lady?" Hurricane asked brightly, coming up slowly behind the younger hybrid.

Dawnsong did not respond immediately, but looked up from her drawing a few moments later. "Hmm?"

Hurricane's grin showed his broken canines and chipped incisors. "What kind of plants are you finding here?"

"Oh, I don't think I can answer that yet," the girl said, though her eyes were bright and her voice sounded a little musical. "There are so many! Some of them don't look too different from ones we have in Savannah, but so many of them are completely different! And it's so late in the year, but there are still so many that seem to be growing."

He noticed that her tail was wagging a little and continued to smile.

"That sounds fascinating, lady," he said. "I'm glad you're enjoying yourself."

Dawnsong's expression faltered a little. "I suppose," she said and looked back down at her journal. A plant she'd plucked lay in the gutter of the open pages; on one side, she had begun to draw it.

"Do you think it's useful?" Dawnsong asked tentatively, looking back up at Hurricane.

"Certainly," he said without hesitation. "There's so much we don't know about the world — even if every plant isn't useful to us, we don't know until we learn, and we can only learn a little bit at a time. You're doing good work, lady. Not everyone can be so patient."

"But you think plants can be useful to us?"

"Why not?" Hurricane asked. "A lot of unexpected things are useful to us. Or we've made them useful. I'm sure god never intended us to travel the sea, but we've done so."

Dawnsong was quiet a moment, then asked, "Do you think we'll become like the humans?"

Her older companion sat down on the small hill beside her. "I don't know," he said. "I'm sure they traveled the seas too. The stories say they did a lot more than that. All the things they've left behind are beyond what we can do right now, but I think we can get there eventually — but will we be like the humans? I don't know. I don't know what they did to destroy themselves. Does anyone know?

And if no one knows, we can't know to avoid their mistakes. So maybe.

"But I think that will take a long time, if we do go that route. Longer than you or I will be alive, anyway."

The girl nodded. "Thanks, Hurricane," she said.

"Nothing to it, lady," he said, putting a hand on her shoulder. "You keep doing what ya do. I know it's not for nothing."

Dawnsong returned to sketching, and for a while he watched her, enjoying the quiet company and the view of an artist and researcher at work. Eventually, he stood again, slowly, carefully, with his old bones reluctant to bear the weight, and started down the other side of the hill. He did not know where to begin to try and understand all the mysteries they didn't know yet, as a society, but he could enjoy the fresh air and the view all the same.

5th November 2020. Broken Occident.

It seemed that he was responsible for far more than he'd bargained for.

He knew the basics and principles of constructing a variety of large structures, including cabins and docks, but he had never actually participated in their creation. The notes and plans he'd brought with him had been from his uncle, who apparently had atrocious handwriting and Tobi could only make out about half of the tiny scrawl.

The pressure was incredible — he couldn't really afford to fail. The crew couldn't afford for him to fail. But it was so much! It was so much to understand and it was so much work. They needed so many trees! Cutting down and hauling dozens of trees was certainly not what he had signed up for.

He was a woodworker, but not a construction worker. He liked to carve small things. Boxes and bowls and little figures. Instruments and tools. He was an artist, not a labourer. The conflation was infuriating.

Perhaps there was some artistry in the design of things, but he found no joy in architecture. It was too technical, and the subject began to edge into things he'd never learned. How was he to know how many logs were needed to hold up a roof? How did you even figure that out without just putting on a roof and hoping for the best?

How was he to know how deep the water on the shore was? What if they couldn't find logs long enough to reach the bottom? How far from the shore was he supposed to extend the dock? What was safest? How was he supposed to know from the shape of the harbor where best to place the dock, so that the ship was best protected from the wind?

He had no idea about any of it, and he didn't want to be responsible.

Tobi dropped his axe on the ground and sat down on the latest of three logs he was working on that morning. The sun was still rising to its high point in the sky, but he was already exhausted. He hated the grueling, repetitive nature of the work. And he hated that it was taking forever!

The dozen or so logs from the day before lay a short distance away. All of their branches had been shorn and bark stripped (this was his current task with today's logs) and the length of each log had been drenched and coated in oil and lard. They needed to wait for the (gross, terrible, slimy) substances to soak into the wood, then in another day or two, they'd wipe off the excess and the logs would be ready to be submerged.

Tobi couldn't even imagine how difficult it would be to stand each log upright again and sink them to the bottom of the harbor. Before that, he supposed someone would need to swim down check the depth of the harbor. Was there another way? What would happen if it was too deep? Hurricane had mentioned it was possible to tie multiple logs together both vertically and horizontally, and that would allow them to both reach the proper depth and to fortify the strength of each post.

Just thinking about it hurt his head and made him shiver.

Surely they didn't expect him to be the poor fool that had to dive into the water when it was this cold?

The dog scowled and rubbed his hands together. He wanted to build a fire on the beach so he didn't have to walk to the camp each time to warm up, but Bluebonnet had said it was too dangerous. The wind was unpredictable and they couldn't risk embers drifting to the logs. It made sense, but he still hated it.

A howl rang out from the distance. It was a casual report from Finn: he'd found the edge of the forest and was going to follow the border back towards the beach.

Tobi almost bared his teeth in annoyance. How nice it must be to be the scout! All Finn had to do all day was walk and look at things, and as the days piled on, it became more and more clear that there was nothing to look at and no one from any real society to encounter. Dawnsong had brought back some weird loners, but that was it. Finn was doing no work at all, as far as Tobi was concerned.

And the stupid mutt had the audacity to try and fool around with him after the day was done, as if Tobi had any energy left by then. He half-wished Melrose would awaken to the fact that the one Finn really wanted to fuck was him, but he was also quite sure that Melrose wasn't interested at all, and surely dealing with a despondent Finn would be even more irritating.

Tobi didn't mind being a side fuck, but he wasn't going to dole out pity fucks, that was for sure.

He turned his head to voices coming down the path. Sighing dramatically, the dog pushed himself to his feet and picked up his axe. The callouses on his palms complained immediately.

The log he'd been sitting on was halfway shorn, but all of the thicker branches were what was left. Each one required several well-aimed hits to be sawed off. His hands pulsed angrily as he tightened his grip on the axe and pulled it back and forth a few times from the target branch to test his aim.

He really hoped Melrose succeeded in scoring a deer for a meal soon. Tobi figured it was the only thing he really had to look forward to for the next few weeks.

10th November 2020. Ethereal Eclipse.

She wished it were easier to tell whether she was doing a good job or not.

Some things were okay: they had plenty of food; their temporary shelters were holding up well enough to wind and light rain; they'd found locals to help them make sense of their new surroundings; they were making progress.

Some things weren't ideal: the harbor was turbulent; gathering the logs and wood needed for construction was arduous and difficult work; they were too far from the nearest pack; they land they'd arrived on had a troubled, destructive history with nature.

Was it safe to stay? She didn't know. Was it better to board the ship again and try to properly find their way to Portland?

Hurricane said that it was likely that their current place was east of Portland, which gave them faster access to the broader ocean and the Europeans beyond it. They could become a new and better Portland, he'd said. Bluebonnet wanted to believe him, as the only one among them who'd gone to the trading port before.

She wanted to believe him, but even if she did, how long would it take for them to become that?

There were only six of them — eight, if Gemini and Forest chose to stay — and their distance from the nearest pack was so discouraging. How could they grow into a prospering hub if they couldn't even connect to the local communities?

And there were no roads, no houses, nothing left behind that was usable in these forests. Whatever remnants there had been of human civilization had been destroyed by the star, was the second or thirdhand information relayed by Gemini. They'd have to build from scratch. Tobi would have his work cut out for him, and Blue felt guilty.

How long would it be until she knew which was the better option?

It was going to be a long winter. What was the worse case scenario?

A storm could come into the cove and destroy their ship. They could be stranded, and that would make the decision for them all. It snowed in the north — she'd never experienced it before, and what if her expectations were wrong? What if they couldn't build shelter in time? What if Tobi, with his short fur, or Melrose, with his slight physique, succumbed to it? The thought made her cold.

How could she ever face their families at home if she lost any of her crew?

Bluebonnet tossed a handful of branches onto the fire. All of the branches shorn from their growing stack of logs were piled around the camp. Many weren't yet dry enough to burn and the fire flickered weakly when it came upon one that was still particularly green on the inside.

Going to Portland was no guarantee of success, either. Their harbor could be full, their houses, their inns. The local families could be unwelcoming, this late in the season. Their waters and their woods would be emptier, with more living and fishing and hunting nearby. One of her crew could offend a local, or perhaps the other way around. There could be social conflict and discord.

Their little ship could meet another storm, and maybe the storm would win, this time.

"All right there, captain?"

Melrose's voice was soft, but as rough around the edges as it usually was. The coydog approached the fire from the side opposite her and sat down a short distance away. "You're up late," he said.

"I'm all right," Blue said, smiling. "Just a little trouble sleeping."

The hunter nodded.

"Why are you still up?" she asked.

"Had to take a leak," Melrose said, shrugging. "The stars here seem brighter. The moon, too. Almost doesn't look like night."

Bluebonnet looked up. She wasn't sure she agreed — the empty fields in Savannah made the sky look impossibly wide at night, and the stars were always bright — but the moon was two-thirds full, and as ever, a sight to behold.

"Maybe," she said. "Is this the first clear night we've had? It's been so cloudy lately."

"That might be it," Melrose conceded. "Maybe it's just been too long since I've seen so many stars."

"What do you think of it here?"

"It's cold," the other canine said, though there was no sourness in his voice like there might've been in Tobi's. "But I like the emptiness."


"You must be worried about us being so far from the packs," Melrose said. "But it gives us so many more resources."

Bluebonnet smiled. She often forgot how preceptive the coydog could be. "Can we really take advantage of them though? I feel bad for Tobi, and for you. You've both got a lot of work to do."

"I don't mind," Melrose said easily. "But I can't speak for Tobi."

The captain laughed. "I hope Forest and Gemini stay. I think they'd be a big help."

A nod. "More hands are helpful."

"More mouths to feed too, though."

"It's not a problem," the hunter said. "There are so many deer here, I think the bigger problem will be putting all the meat to use, or preserving them properly. The days are short, so drying will be difficult. I think we can try to freeze some, but that will be an experiment."

"Don't work too hard," Bluebonnet said gently.

"The evenings are restful," Melrose reassured her. "I don't dislike my job, you know."

"I know," she said. "I appreciate that." She tossed another handful of branches onto the fire. This time, the flames grew gratefully and fresh embers rose readily from the dry kindling. "Thanks, Melrose."

"Get some sleep, cap'n," he said, standing again.

Bluebonnet nodded and got to her feet as well. "Good night," she said, nodding to the coydog once more before turning back towards her tent.

"Good night," echoed the soft voice behind her.

The fire crackled on softly.

12th November 2020. Broken Occident.

Forest liked the work.

It was steady and rhythmic, but still required careful consideration and thought. A lapse in concentration could mean losing a finger or some equally grievous and unnecessary injury.

The work was hard and required strength, but it was satisfying for the same reason. The sight of fine, piled logs at the end of the day was as satisfying as a difficult kill. It helped, too, that he was similarly rewarded with a good meal when the work was finished for the evening.

The black, short-furred dog was young and full of youthful energy, which he mostly spent complaining loudly to anyone who would listen. Forest thought it polite to humour him at first, but quickly learned that it didn't much matter whether he was polite or not. Tobi carried on whether Forest was listening or not, and he carried on regardless of Forest telling him to stop — or even of Bluebonnet telling him to stop.

The wolf found the utter lack of decorum a little alarming at first, but it became clear over time that Tobi did respect his captain and listened when it mattered. With the exception of ceasing his complaints, he always followed her orders, even if he complained about them, and he worked hard, even if he made it clear he'd very much prefer not to.

Gemini found the whole thing hilarious, of course. The casual relationship between the members of the crew made their hierarchy difficult to understand, but there was still a clear respect each member had for the others, and they worked very efficiently together.
Forest did not dislike being among them, even if tuning out Tobi was taking considerable practice.

Still, that the land that used to be to the south of them had been swallowed by the sea was disturbing. He didn't know how likely it was to happen again and couldn't begin to imagine how to make those risk calculations. Was it worth it to stay?

Gemini was enjoying the company and the stories and learning about the parts of the world she'd never seen, and certainly, it was nice to have access to large game and fish and regular shelter. It had been a long time since either of them had been in a pack, but as they got older, it seemed a better and better idea. And how often was it that they found one as accepting and informal as this one? (Forest did not mind formality, but Gemini preferred otherwise.)

The established packs in the area all had their troubled histories and prejudices. It was probable that the crew of the Double Down did as well, but so far, it had been pleasant enough.

Forest cleaved off the last branch of the log and straightened up, panting slightly from the effort. The sun was at its high point and the sky was clear — it was a warmer day than he'd been expecting, though Tobi would surely say otherwise.

The dog, noticing that Forest had finished his log, chose to also take a break and sat down on his half-finished work. He set his axe down and rubbed at his callouses, shivering lightly.

"It's only gonna get more cold from here'on out, huh?"

"Yes," Forest said. "It shouldn't be much longer until the first snow."

Tobi grumbled. "I've never seen snow," he said. "Everyone's always described it as nice-looking, but I don't think it's worth it if it has to be so cold."

The wolf smiled. "Maybe it's better to think, if it has to be so cold, it's nice that it's at least beautiful."

The dog scowled at him, but didn't object.

"And it is beautiful," Forest continued. "Snow reflects light, so it glitters on clear days and nights when it's fresh. It doesn't tend to stick long here though — the climate on the peninsula's really quite moderate, I think, because of the ocean. The snow's much heavier further inland and further north."

"God, I wouldn't be able to stand it," Tobi said. "I already can't stand it. It gets colder than this? Who can possibly stand it? Why would anyone want to live in the cold when there are better options? But I guess you've got that big thick fur. Do you even feel it? It's so fucking cold."

"It's cold," Forest agreed. "But not that cold."

Tobi muttered something under his breath, but Forest chose not to hear it. He didn't think that the dog actually disliked him — he should be grateful for the help, at least — but certainly he was used to speaking his mind and seemed to only occasionally consider that perhaps it wasn't proper to do so with a near-stranger.

Forest picked up his axe again and moved onto the next tree, not yet a log. They had cut it down the previous day and dragged it out to the beach. Forest considered that it might've been more efficient to shear the branches where the tree had fallen, which would make dragging the log easier, but with the crew using the branches to feed their fire, not having the carry endless bundles from elsewhere in the forest was nice too.

Further down the beach, the old coydog with the broken teeth was poking around the water's edge with a stick, jotting down notes. Forest had never been involved with a construction project and was very interested to see how it was all going to come together, though part of him had serious doubts when they'd told him what they were trying to do.

Building a structure to stand in the water seemed impossible to him. Hurricane and Bluebonnet had reassured him that docks were common in the south and that they'd seen lots of successful projects — but both also admitted that they hadn't personally been involved with any of those projects. Tobi seemed almost as unsure about the whole thing as Forest, but he stopped short of saying that it was impossible.

The wolf turned back to his fallen tree and began hacking off branches again. Whether the project failed or not wasn't of much personal consequence to him, though it might serve as the determining factor as to whether he and Gemini chose to stay.
14th November 2020. Ethereal Eclipse.

Gemini did not inherently dislike or distrust packs and groups.

Her experiences with them in the past had not been particularly notable or traumatising. She simply found the complex structure of many of them tiresome and without much ultimate purpose. Hierarchy was important, and a clear chain of command in difficult situations was important, but the way many seemed to structure their tiny kingdoms in modern times didn't actually seem to make much positive impact on the group overall.

Self-important monarchs did whatever they could to maintain their power, only to be usurped by their own children, plotting behind their backs, all while their subjects falls to conspiracy and ruin. What was the benefit of power if everyone must fall apart around you? The destructive power of the ego was perplexing and amazing.

The crew of the Double Down had some sort of hierarchy, though beyond the captain's place at the top, Gemini hadn't really been able to line the rest of them up accordingly. It'd become a delightful puzzle for her grapple with as she watched their interactions around the camp.

"They could just have a flat structure beyond the leader," Forest suggested. "Or just go by seniority. Everyone seems to respect the old man, anyway."

The pair strolled through the quiet wood. It was late in the morning and the wolf was in the middle of hauling several logs felled the previous day back to the beach. Tobi was supposed to accompany Forest, but Gemini decided to relieve him of the duty, in part to see if she could manage to actually help.

"Maybe," the coydog said. "They said some of them are from different packs, but some of them are still from the same one, so there has to be some hierarchy there, even if there isn't a formal one within the crew."

Forest hummed. "Are any of them still from the same pack though? I think some of them said they changed packs."

"That's right... I don't remember the details though."

"Sounded complicated."

"That's why I'm surprised they're so casual," Gemini said. "They have some complicated system with multiple packs, but they don't seem very up tight about it here."

"Maybe they're taking advantage of being away from home."

"If they formed a pack here, do you think it'd be complicated?"

Forest glanced sideways at her as he walked. "Why, you thinkin' of joining them?"

She shrugged. "It's been nice, so far."

"That's true."

"You're still worried about sinking into the ocean?"

The wolf rumbled an affirmative. "Maybe it shouldn't be a consideration though," he sighed. "It's impossible to know whether it'll happen again."

"Find a fortune teller," Gemini suggested, laughter in her voice.

"If they told you it'd be fine, would you believe them?"

"If they told you it wouldn't, would you believe them?" Gemini echoed back.

Forest smiled. "Impossible to know, as I said."

"I suppose we'll stay the winter, at least?" Gemini had assumed so, but it was always best to be clear. "They do seem like they need the help, and it's been very nice not to have to hunt."

"Yeah," the wolf agreed. "It's not fun being on our own in the winter, anyway."

"That Tobi guy not gonna drive you up the wall before spring?"

Forest snorted. "Does that guy talk? I've tuned him out."

"Guess you'd have to." Gemini agreed.

They came upon the fallen tree. There were three others nearby, all lying facing the same direction. On the beach, they had collected nearly fifty of them, most of which had been processed into clean-shaven logs and "waterproofed" with fat and oil.

Gemini had no knowledge or experience with building or the creation of materials, and if she was honest, "waterproof" sounded like a strange and absurd concept, but it was fascinating to watch the Double Down crew chatter among themselves about these things and to puzzle and debate over the specifics of their project.

Perhaps the complexity of their Savannah home was not so terrible if it allowed them to gain the knowledge they seemed to had, though Gemini supposed it remained to be seen whether their knowledge was real, or simply a fool's beliefs.

Forest took the rope he'd been carrying and started to wrap and tie it around the tree's thickest branches. There was already a rope tied around the trunk in several places, and he looped his new rope through them, securing everything at the base of the trunk.

Meanwhile, Gemini took her time shifting down, watching her own body change with a distant curiosity. She rarely used her halfling form, but she had watched Tobi and Bluebonnet haul a tree back the day before and it seemed like such a clever use of the form.

Both in their halfling form, they'd each had a rope harness which attached to the base of the tree. The two stood in parallel in front of the tree and pulled with equal strength. Gemini didn't think it looked like a very efficient way to go about it at first, but they seemed to demonstrate the opposite, dragging the tree through the forest at a steady clip.

When Forest finished securing the rope to the tree, he looped one rope harness over his mate, pulling it comfortably tight. The other harness he pulled over himself, but kept it loose, leaving the long end of the rope in an easy-to-reach position while he shifted.

Gemini waved her tail excited while she waited, eager to see how quickly they could get the tree back to the beach.

"Never seen you so eager to do hard work," Forest laughed.

"Never thought I'd get to haul a wholeass tree!" Gemini exclaimed.

"Don't complain when it gets really hard then."

"I can if I want!" the coydog said, also laughing.

Forest picked up the loose end of the rope carefully in his teeth and tightened his harness. "All right then, let's go!"
14th November 2020. Broken Occident.

The feeling of relief was immense.

Hurricane stood and patted the white wolf on the back, laughing. "Thank god," he said. "The trees are the perfect height!"

In lieu of diving down to check the depth of the cove, they'd tied a rock to a length of rope, marked where the water stopped, then pulled the rock back out and measured the rope. They couldn't measure all the way out with this method, so there could be trouble if the bottom of the harbour sloped down, but that would just need to be something they dealt with if they got there.

The old coydog compared the length of rope to the next several logs, marking off where the water level would reach on each one.
"All right, Tobi, Forest," he said. "Y'all can start tying up one of these and we'll get it into the water. Then we can finally start building this damn dock."

The woodworker grumbled, as he always did, but he stood from the log he'd been sitting on and grabbed a coil of rope. Hurricane went back to the edge of the water and double-checked the measurements from between the marked spots for the mooring poles. 

They had already built the "pre-dock," comprising several short stumps of wood, gradually increasing in length, leading out from the shallows of the cove. This took them about fifteen feet out from the shore, where the water level became much deeper.

The rest of the plan was as simple as could be for the time being: there would be fourteen mooring poles in total, seven on each side, going straight out into the cove; the dock would be ten feet wide and there'd be ten feet between each pair of poles. This would give them a 60-foot long dock, giving room for their 40-foot long ship to dock length-wise and just enough extra space to be comfortable.

While they worked on the dock, the ship was beached further down the cove. Pushing it back out into the water would be a pain, but Hurricane was excited to see the finished dock, which he could already visualise perfectly well in his head.

He'd sketched out another plan based off Mitchell Goodboy's drawings that Tobi had brought along. Hurricane had helped out with various construction projects before, but this was the first time he'd been more or less in charge of one. It was mostly because Tobi had been eager to unload the responsibility onto someone else, but Hurricane was happy for the opportunity to re-immerse himself in something he hadn't done in a few years. And he was too weak to do the manual labour anymore, anyway.

Tobi and Forest dragged over a log. The short distance made shifting unnecessary, so they'd remained in their upright forms. When the log arrived at the water's edge, they untied themselves and returned to the beach to retrieve a collection of large, heavy rocks, which were then strapped to the root-end of the log.

Forest then stood at the rear of the log and re-harnessed himself, holding on tightly to the rope that connected to the top of the once-tree.

Slowly, they pushed the other end of the log into the water, controlling its descent by holding onto the many ropes. The work of pulling the log to keep it as upright and vertical as possible as it sank was difficult. The log swayed in the water as it sank and its anchor of rocks drifted away from where they'd aimed for it to sink.

The minutes passed slowly as the log gradually became submerged. It was stressful to watch, but Hurricane yelled instructions best he could, directing the two younger men to shift this way and that, to pull tight, or to let go.

In the end, the log sank down about two feet out from where they'd intended, but it seemed to stand upright securely, which was probably the most important, and it was close enough that they could still work with it.

Hurricane sat down with the Tobi and Forest on the end of the dock-so-far, exhausted the same as they were, despite not doing the physical work.

It was still going to be some long weeks until the project was done.
14th November 2020. Ethereal Eclipse.

If not for the information about the falling star, Bluebonnet would've been surprised that there were no packs on the end of the peninsula.

The forest was lush and plentiful. The hills looked beautifully desolate, but were filled with rabbits and raccoons, weasels and minks, and a lot of foxes, too. On the rocky shores, she'd spotted fat, naked grey things she hadn't had a name for. Gemini told her they were probably "seals," which were delicious and very rich in fat.

There were so many resources, and it was winter! As excited as she was to see snow again, thinking about spring was more thrilling. What would those hills look like when the grasses were green and the flowers were blooming? How lively would the forest be when the songbirds returned? (And oh, the tender meat delicacies when fawning season began?)

Perhaps the forests further inland were equally prosperous. Did the local packs have stockpiles of preserved meat? Did they have piles of wood, stacked high to feed their winter fires? Were they gathered where their humans used to be, and it was just because the humans had left these forests empty that they did not gather here?

She was eager to meet the area packs, but she figured that for the time being, it was more important to make sure her small crew was well-situated before the weather turned colder still. It was slow work, but they'd made decent progress on the dock so far. She hadn't wanted Tobi to split his attentions too much, but they'd need to start on building more stable shelter as soon as possible, too.

Forest had reported that the winters were usually mild, but "usually" was always the catch, and Bluebonnet didn't want them to be caught unprepared.

The dog paused at the crest of a hill. On the other side was the large lake that Finn had reported, running against the edge of the forest on west while the rolling hills continued to its south and east. There was supposedly a little village somewhere nearby along the coast, though most of the buildings were damaged to an unsafe level. It was better for them to stay near the ship, anyway.

She ran down the hill, barreling through the tall grass in her halfling form and appreciating the light thrill of speed. After all their long days at sea, the vast emptiness of the fields and hills were a special joy. She loved the ocean, but this was a freedom of a different kind. Here she wasn't at the mercy of the wind, which could blow against her all it wanted, to no avail. She could run where she wanted.

She ran to the edge of the lake.

The water was cold, clear, pristine, and delicious. She drank her fill before shifting back to two feet to fill the collection of canteens she'd had strapped to her. That this huge, beautiful source of fresh water had not been claimed was among the many bewilderments she still had trouble processing. Were they just extremely lucky, or were they being extremely foolish?

She thought again about Hurricane's idea to build and settle there, to perhaps ursurp Portland's role as the region's main port.
There was plenty of land and building material. The only trouble was labour. Forest had been a big help, but she couldn't ask the wolf and Tobi to build out an entire village. She was half-sure that Tobi would mutiny if it came to that. If they could trade for some horses or oxen, that would be a big help, but those animals couldn't assist in the actual construction.

It could be slow work, in any case. Even if they somehow acquired a half dozen more willing workers, it would be slow work. Almost all of the buildings in Savannah had human-made leftovers at their base — putting up cabins and houses from scratch would take three times as much time, surely.

In the summer, the Double Down would be due back in Savannah for a report. Maybe she could convince the Council to send up a second crew?

Bluebonnet stood again, now weighed down by a few gallons of water, and began to walk back towards the camp.

She had time to think about it, she supposed, but as outrageous as the idea was, all of the alternatives seemed less appealing. A single-cabin station in the middle of no where was nothing at all, really, especially if it was so far from the nearest back. It might be a convenient rest house if a ship needed temporarily shelter from a storm en route to Portland, but it was no real asset.

The expedition would probably be counted as a failure, then.

It was a big investment to commit to building something better, but labour was probably the cheapest resource to find. Maybe they could hire some of the nearby pack? It didn't hurt to ask.

Building a competitor to Portland was certainly not what the Council had in mind, but she felt strangely confident that she could win them over on it. They usually encountered Europeans trading in Barbados, but wouldn't it be a shorter trip for them to keep in the north? It would be like meeting in the middle.

There was a lot of room for failure. She was scared of a million things. But wouldn't it be so cool to succeed? She laughed to herself as she climbed back up the hill. Maybe they could name their new port town Bluebonnet.
16th November 2020. Broken Occident.

"God, this is so much meat!" Finn laughed.

Three dead bucks and a doe were lined up on the edge of the beach, a short distance away from the remnants of Melrose's first buck, which was now just a hollow skeleton, still visited by frequent seagulls.

"Yes, we should be good for a while," Melrose said, standing back to admire their large cache. He felt a swell of pride, admiring the fruits of his efforts.

It had been almost trivial, slowly nudging the herd this way and that, showing up at the edges to frighten a few animals one way, before going around and nudging them again.

Digging out those pits when the ground was so cold had been the difficult work, but clearly it'd been worth it. All four traps scored a foolish beast, and now they had food for weeks, if they could preserve it.

"It probably won't work again soon anyway," the coydog continued. "They'll be more wary of pits next time, maybe. I think once the bucks shed their antlers, they'll be more cautious in general, too."

"Then we'll just have to wrestle them to the ground the old way, huh?" Finn said.

"Dangerous," Melrose said.

"I could do it," the dog boasted casually.

"There are other traps I could try," the hybrid said thoughtfully. "Rope traps and such. They should be easier to hide."

"You should relax more," Finn said, clapping him on the back. "Haven't you earned yourself a break?"

"A surplus is good. We'll have more to save and more to trade. The herd might move in the winter, so we should take advantage of them while they're here." Melrose shrugged. "In any case, we should start working on these before more seagulls figure out they're here."

"Yeah, all right."

Finn helped him hoist the doe, which was nearest to them, onto one of several metal gambrels (which they'd brought with them from Savannah) hanging from a sturdy tree branch. They repeated this until all four were lined up vertically between them.

Then, Melrose began skinning the first deer with practiced speed and efficiency. When he was finished, Finn immediately began carving out pieces of the exposed meat while the coydog moved onto skinning the next animal.

When Melrose reached the end of their short processing queue, he returned to the start, taking the lean cuts of meat Finn was stacking up and placing them in a large wooden pail of evaporated salt water.

By Hurricane's estimate, it wouldn't rain again for at least two or three days — that didn't mean it would be sunny, but they could at least start drying and curing some of the meat. They could use smoking to finish them off.

The fattier cuts of meat he set aside; those were better eaten fresh, and in the cold weather, they could probably keep okay for a few days without any particular preservation. The stack grew to be pretty overwhelming though, and he ran out of salt for the lean cuts.

Standing to stretch for a moment, Melrose racked his brain for other ways they could preserve the excess. He didn't have access to everything that he did in Savannah, was the main issue, but the cooler temperatures were ultimately an advantage, weren't they?

"Do we have a big box with a lid we aren't using?" he asked Finn, who was elbow-deep in blood, pulling the entrails out of the third deer.

"Dunno," the dog said. "I'd think they're all being used, probably to hold stuff for trade, but since the ship is parked, it's probably okay to move the stuff out if you need a box. We have too much meat?"

"Yeah," Melrose said. "Half this stack will be gone by tonight, but we have more lean meat than salt. Leaving meat out in the cold might be fine for a short while, but scavengers will find it, so a box would help."

He paused a moment, thoughtful, then continued: "Submerging the box in water would keep it cooler and more safe, but only if the box is well-sealed. I don't think we have any that are."

"Prob'ly not," Finn agreed, dumping the third deer's organs in the pile with the rest. The organ meats would also be at the top of the 'eat as soon as possible' list, since they were difficult to preserve, and really too delicious to wait on, anyway. "And Tobi ain't gonna make you a new box anytime soon."

Melrose nodded. "Submerging a box will have to wait then... we could also try burying the box. That wouldn't cool it as much as water, but it'd work... we could even half-fill the hole with water..."

Finn grinned at him. "You're ramblin', but it's cute."

"I'll check the ship for a box," Melrose said. "You watch for gulls."

The dog gave him a joking salute and turned back to his work.
20th November 2020. Broken Occident / Ethereal Eclipse.

There was a safety in a daily routine. Being able to maintain one meant that things were all right.

True to her name, perhaps, she rose each morning at dawn. After taking breakfast on her own — often a single fish from their stash — she gathered her journals and tools and set off along the shore. Occasionally, Hurricane was up early enough to tag along with her. She never minded. The old coydog was chatty, but seemed perfectly content to muse aloud to himself and let her alone often enough to explore on his own.

All the same, she preferred the days he didn't come. She would never say it, of course, but he slowed her down. She felt she needed to keep an eye on him, in case something happened, and staying within a certain radius of him, while not a horrible limit, was a limit nonetheless.

With Melrose and Finn taking charge of exploring the forests and the lake, Dawnsong dedicated herself to exploring the shoreline. The arrangement had been accidental, but she was grateful — surely there was far less of a chance for her to run into more strangers along the coast.

And the jagged, broken edge of the land was fascinating.

Geology was not something they had a name for yet, but Dawnsong could see easily enough that there plenty to study and learn that didn't pertain to her own areas of interest. Plants of all sorts grew along the cliffs and rocks, but the cliffs and rocks were their own subject.

She collected moss and algae from the crevices and placed them in jars to take back to the camp, pressed them between the clean, smooth pages of her journal. The grasses on the hills were plain, but along the edges of the woods, there were sometimes tiny trees and strange flowers.

Dawnsong worried that her journal wouldn't be long enough.

There were an endless number of things to catalogue, and while she had begun to ration the nicer pages of her grandfathers' gift to only to things she thought would be useful later, she filled her other book with all the other things and mundane observations, and it was a certainty that she would need more pages to write in sooner than later.

The trouble was that she loved to write and take notes, whether it was for plants or other things she saw, or simply as a way to record her own thoughts and feelings. It helped her clear her mind to write about what was on it, and she wasn't keen to give that up — she didn't have anyone else to talk to, if not for her journals.

Hurricane said that it was impossible to know what things would be useful later, and that even the simplest notes about the stupidest things might well prove helpful someday - the girl supposed he was right, but still. It was hard to not feel like she was wasting valuable resources.

When were they going to be able to trade for anything? And would these backcountry packs have anything that she could actually use?
Dawnsong did not dislike Gemini and Forest, exactly, but she didn't really understand loners and their desire to keep separate from packs and groups. But from them, her impression of the local packs was not high, either. It seemed like there was plenty of conflict and discord, and that packs rose and fell in a matter of years.

Those sorts of struggles were a fact of Savannah's history as well, but it was history. Petty arguments remained a way of life, certainly, but there was no war, and disagreements didn't keep the leaders and the Council from taking care of their packs and the greater community.

If these cold weather packs weren't to that point yet, then what really was there to gain from them? And they were so far away.
Dawnsong desperately wanted to get more journals, or at least, sheets of paper, before spring, but she knew that their other needs far exceeded her own selfish wants.

Maybe she could make her own paper? They were gathering so much wood and what she needed for paper would hardly make a dent in their supply... but she didn't know much about the process. Maybe Tobi did, but he certainly wouldn't be interested in helping. Maybe Hurricane knew how?

She fantasized a about making her own paper and having a good, ready supply of it for when spring came, and oh, Dawnsong could only imagine what spring would be like.

The colors of autumn had begun to fade — many trees now stood with bare branches, and the carpet of leaves they'd produced were mostly black and brown. Here and there, the spots of yellow and orange clung on delicately, but it was only a matter of days, surely, before they joined their fellows.

But if there was so much color and life in the fall, then surely the spring would amazing.

In the late mornings, just before noon, Dawnsong returned to camp for lunch. While Finn was occasionally absent, most of the rest of the crew, and their two loner guests, would be present for the meal. Dawnsong contented herself to eat quietly while listening to the banter and conversation of others before eventually excusing herself to return to the field.

While the mornings exploring felt long and comfortable, the afternoons were very short. She never felt like she could get very far and it was a lot harder to concentrate. Rather than sketching and note taking, Dawnsong spent more time in the afternoons gathering specimens to dry or to grind into pulp. The brighter or stronger smelling the plant, the more likely a candidate it was for something.

Experimentation was a long and awkward process. She tested whether things were poisonous by dabbing the substances on herself and waiting to see if there was a reaction — this had to be repeated many times in different quantities, just in case.

When substances passed the first test, she sometimes had small scrapes and bruises on which to test potential for healing, but more often she was experimenting on others. Sometimes she let them know; sometimes she didn't. In most cases, the worse that could happen was nothing, and Dawnsong was aware that most of them were skeptical of healing this way anyway.

She wondered a lot why Bluebonnet had invited her on the trip. Almost no one thought that plants could make any difference in treating various ailments, and while Dawnsong had been trained in basic healer duties like setting bones and patching flesh wounds, there were plenty of other healers that would've been happy to come.

And Bluebonnet had specifically told her that there would be lots of weird plants and things for her to learn about.

Dawnsong had been too afraid to ask whether the other woman believed in what she was doing. Hurricane seemed to, but it also seemed that Hurricane felt it was his job to encourage everyone. Maybe Bluebonnet thought that too, though.

When the sun set, the hybrid returned to camp once more. In her tent, she set things out to dry or organised them among her belongings. She wrote down her thoughts about the day. Sometimes, she made small talk with Hurricane or Bluebonnet or Melrose.

They'd have supper when the moon was high, and Dawnsong would listen to the accounts of everyone's days. When the meal was finished, she was normally the first to retreat from the fire. Sometimes Tobi would ask for pain relief or a massage; sometimes Melrose or Finn would have some small scrape they wanted looked at. Once, Gemini asked to see her various herbs and supplies.

Often, once everyone had left her alone, she'd fall straight asleep. The physical exhaustion of the long days would catch up to her and her mind wouldn't have time to fret or obsess over anything stupid.

Sometimes though, she'd lie awake for a long time, listening to the rest of the crew wind down. Sometimes there were low, murmured conversations at the fire late at night. Sometimes, someone would pace restlessly back and forth on the nearby beach. Sometimes, the gulls would yell, well into the early hours of morning.

Eventually though, there would be silence. And Dawnsong would fall asleep thinking about doing it all again the next day. They were lucky to have a routine, and it grew more comfortable by the day.

Dawnsong had always been lucky in this way, able to rely on others, surrounded by relative stability. Despite this though, she always recognised her privilege, and she was always fearful that it would come to an end, someday.

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