[AW] Il fait frette
Somewhere in Searsport. Catskill is in his Secui form, Ukiuk is in her lupus.

They came to the river and stopped, halted by worsening weather. Catskill had expected snow, but they were further south than the lands where they had been before now.

Portland had been busy the way that Québec was busy, but not nearly as developed. The trade had been decent. They had unloaded some of the excess furs down there, lightening the load considerably. He had traded off the other horse as well, unwilling to take it with them into the wilderness. The last thing he needed was to end up with a dead horse dragging them down.

Hawksaw would be all right, of course. The mule was tougher than any horse they had ever come across. Some people didn't even realize he was a mule, given his color. The stoat bundled up in the bags was white now too.

Catskill was the only part of their group that wasn't this color, and stood out like a sore thumb. He liked this, in his own way – even if Ukiuk was annoyed by his lingering gaze, as her crinkled muzzle warned him.

“Where do you want to go?” She asked him.

“Well, nowhere yet – if this snow keeps coming down, we would have trouble making camp once we get across. Best gonna be time to stop. We can find a place nearby,” he indicated the structures they were approaching. “Some of these buildings look empty.”

The she-wolf turned towards the dark outlines looming ahead. It was still a few hours until nightfall but the overcast sky had turned everything dark and the snow was starting to become heavier. There was a forest beyond the river, but they had yet to find a proper crossing. An old, human-made bridge had broken apart by some greater force than time. Plenty of the buildings they had seen were like this too, and made Catskill wonder about why they were in such ruin.

“They all look empty,” Ukiuk said a moment later. She lifted her head to the wind. “I will go look.”

“I can—,”
he started to say, but she was already moving. In a few minutes, he wouldn't be able to see her white pelt against the snow. “I can wait here, I suppose,” he said aloud, and clicked his tongue.

Hawksaw followed him into the leeward side of a wall, where the a slight overhang afforded some protection from the elements. Once they were settled, the wolf shook out his pelt and breathed out a sigh of annoyance. His large Secui form required more energy to maintain, but he wanted to be able to shift quickly once they made camp. The goods would need seen too and he desperately wanted to smoke.
Well, it's not like I didn't give other people a chance!

The snow had been unexpected and Kyrios was very grumpy about it, but the mildness of the prior days had him hoping that the storm would be brief, at least. After all, December was still the very beginning of the season; there was no reason to pile on early with the snow when there was still plenty of time left.

Zaku tossed her head, shaking the snow from her dark mane. "There, there," Kyrios mumbled, reaching forward to help her brush some of it away. "I think we're done for the day, too," he said.

It was still early in the afternoon, but the days were already short enough without clouds dominating the sky for most of it. The seaside village was already dark on the horizon; despite the new snow on the roofs, it was covered the long shadows cast from overhead.

The cold stung at Kyrios's nose, but he suddenly caught the scent of another horse. And a wolf.

He slowed their gait and squinted at the approaching line of buildings.
Snowstorms weren't all the same. As a man who had traveled the northeast, Catskill trusted his experience to warn him what was coming. This light dusting was not the sustained, heavy snow that would delay them.

The river was what made this dangerous. They didn't know the river well enough to know how deep it was or how strong the current pulled. To underestimate the river was a grave mistake, and one Catskill too smart to make. He would not risk losing his goods or putting his life in danger when there had to be a suitable passage. Why else would people live this way? What sense did it make to put so many dangers between oneself and budding industry?

Privacy, legacy, and – as Catskill hoped – wealth.

Hawksaw lifted his head from the ugly grass he was ripping into. When Catskill turned to face this direction, the wind brought with it a warning.

He stood again, alert but calm. The mule hadn't reacted much at all, which meant the predator out there was expected. By then Catskill had made the stranger out too – coyotes were less common in Quebec, but he had seen them each time he came south. Travelers reached out to all ends of the earth, no matter how far they seemed to be.

“Hallo! If you're not a foe, there ees room for more here,” he called to the man standing in wind. The tincture of the trader's accent carried when he spoke. The common tongue he used seemed prevalent in the area to the south, and Catskill was uncertain as to what lay ahead of them. Communicating with others would be vital to his success.
Kyrios had quite a good track record of not running into random murderers and thieves, but he often worried that this made him complacent and not cautious enough. Career travelers, traders, and loners were typically guarded and hesitant, which, in his experience, made them harder to read than pack members.

Still, as he approached, he could see that the stranger's horse was weighed down with goods. So it was either a trader or a thief, and Kyrios didn't think a thief would call out in such a manner. Or have an accent. It was better to steal on home terrain.

"Hello!" Kyrios greeted against the wind. He gave a brief wave, then dismounted to lead his horse under the awning of the building.

The wolf did not seem nervous or aggressive, and his horse (or perhaps not a horse?) also seemed calm, which was reassuring as well as the mounts of those with ill-intent sometimes expressed a nervousness and anxiety that their owners tried to keep hidden.

"Well, you look well-prepared for a storm, at least," Kyrios said, grinning at the other's impressive collection of furs. His own (bear) fur cloak offered reasonable protection against the cold, but it was older, well-worn, and the fur had seen better days.
The stranger's pale hair and nose made him appear older than he was. Up close there were other traces of white that was not left from the snow. The ears gave him away as a coyote. He was bigger than most of the others the trader had seen – and up close he wasn't nearly as scruffy or hungry-looking as some of the folk they had encountered.

Catskill followed the man's gaze. When he smiled, his big teeth flashed. “A good sign for business,” he hoped. “You are the first person we have seen today, though, so perhaps I was told wrong.”

There had been enough talk to convince him to come this way. Groups whose names he had heard in passing but not thought too important were said to live in the north and along the eastern land. The sight of the ruins they had come through and the lonely miles in-between worried him, though he would never admit such openly.

Though Hawksaw sniffed and made quiet noises towards the stranger's horse (a proper horse, Catskill thought) the mule made no effort to leave his position. Encouraged by this, Catskill took a few steps forward to better sniff at the blue-eyed coyote. The snow and the wind had made it hard to gain too much information from their original distance.

“What has you out in this weather, friend?” Catskill asked. He stopped only a few paces from the white mule, not wanting to alarm the man or his mount.
"We're still a fair distance from the nearest pack, I think," Kyrios said, looking back out to the storm for a moment.

And there were fewer packs than there had been, if his information was right. It sounded like the earth had decided on a tumultuous few years since he'd gone and had bestowed on the area a variety of disasters. One traveler had told him a mountain had fallen into the sea, but the hybrid wasn't quite sure he believed that one.

"But I'm sure your goods will be well-received once you get to them."

Zaku nosed towards the stranger's pack animal, angling, for a moment, for a bit of the same patch of weedy green. The white mule (Kyrios decided) huffed at her and the dark mare obliged to move on along the wall of the building, eventually finding another patch to nibble on.

The cream hybrid laughed quietly.

"The weather happened while we were out is all," he said. "We're just heading east."

Kyrios crouched down a moment, then decided to sit down against the wall, positioning himself between the two pack animals. The stranger wasn't on two legs, and he didn't like looking down on others in conversation.

"Used to live around here," he continued easily. "Curious to see how things have changed in the years I've been gone."

Confirmation of their unknown distance left Catskill a little crestfallen. He would make do. It was not the first time he had traveled during winter. The going would be far more difficult if deep snow fell, but thus far, they had only seen light coverage. A dusting was not as bad as a white-out. Ice and rain would be worse than either.

The wolf listened to the man talk at first, and eventually mirrored his motions and sat. The ground was cold and dry to the touch. If the snow did decide to keep coming down, it would most certainly stick. Slick ground would be more dangerous for the mule. The threat of oncoming darkness was another factor to consider.

“So you have returned, eh? Will you tell me some of what you know? Ah,” he exclaimed something in French and laughed. “My name is Catskill. I am indeed a trader – of fine furs, and good leather, and better beads. I would show you but eet it is a lot to unpack, you understand.” The wolf imagined Catskill would be far more comfortable without the goods on his back. The mule deserved a proper rest after all the miles they had gone, though his new company's information suggested this was still a long time coming.

“We are looking for a way across the river,” he further explained. “If that is the way we should be going,” the wolf's voice rose in a question. East had been a vague direction to follow, especially when the land followed the curve of the sea.
"Understandable for sure," Kyrios said, grinning.

He didn't have nearby the amount of luggage as the wolf, but still, it was an entire ordeal to unpack. Most of what he carried was packaged dry meat, carefully wrapped in scrap leather or leaves. Sometimes he was tempted to use paper, but paper was far to valuable to waste on that. The hybrid also had a variety of trinkets that he'd accepted in trades mostly so he could get rid of meat, which he generally had a surplus of. Every now and again, he was lucky and managed to re-trade those things, but often, he ended up throwing them away when there got to be too many.

The rest of his carry consisted of tools: a variety of knives for different purposes, sharpening stones, raw stones for arrows, fletching, and of course, a lot of arrows, and probably too many bows. He could stand to trade more of his bows away, but it was difficult not to get attached to them after spending so long carving them and making sure they worked just right, and so it was rare that a trader came along with an offer that could get him over his burdensome emotional attachment.

"Kyrios," he offered. "Good to meet you, friend."

The hybrid thought for a moment, trying to visualise in his head his memory of the area. He remembered suddenly that there was a big river coming up, and it wasn't even the one they were next to now. He frowned slightly.

"Yes," he said slowly. "All the packs are east of the rivers... there are some new packs now, but I think they're all still east of here."

Kyrios shifted back to a crouching position and set down the bow and quiver that had still been strapped to his back. Taking an arrow, he began scratching lines in the dirt. Certainly not the best surface to draw on, but it was simpler than digging around for paper, and the cold, compact surface allowed for careful lines, at least.

"If I'm remembering properly, this river isn't that big and you could go around it from the north if you wanted. Easier to cross it if you can find a place to cross... I think almost all of the bridges are collapsed, but there are some that still float on the water and you can cross if you're careful. The water is usually not as strong near the bridges.

"A day or two after this river, there's another one, much bigger. It goes further north and there's a bunch of lakes. I think one of the new packs is up there..."

Kyrios sketched out his approximation of St. John's River. He wasn't really sure what the lakes looked like, how big they were, or where exactly the river split, but still, it was enough to give the sense of a formidable piece of geography.

"I really hope there are still usable bridges for the big river," he sighed. "They were in rough shape when I left, and I've heard that there have been a lot of earthquakes the last few years."
Like before, it was all east – though now the obstacles ahead were becoming more tangible. It was one thing to hear about a river or a forest, but to understand how wide and how terrible these places might be was difficult without a point of context. He applied, therefore, what he already knew.

A little friendliness could make the going easier. Kyrios was still a stranger, but they had established this first rule of cordiality between them. Their exchange was already underway when the coyote pulled out the arrow.

Catskill eyed this cautiously. Up close, an arrow wasn't as dangerous as a knife or a sharpened blade, but the sharp tip was like any other fang. Enough pressure, the right area, anything could happen.

The wolf watched the lines his companion formed in the dirt. It was difficult to quantify the distance, but what the coyote said brought as many questions as it did answers. Fording the river where it was shallow would be more ideal than testing their luck on a broken bridge, but the thought of wasting all that time weighed on him. Getting to the second, larger river before winter set in seemed imperative.

“Earthquakes?” Catskill repeated. The phenomenon had not occurred in his lifetime, but he knew the term. In southern Quebec, a bridge had collapsed in the years before he was born. His elders had used a similar word to describe the event which caused it. It was a rarity – a once in a lifetime occurrence. It had never occurred to him that more than one might strike.

“North of the big river, you mean?” The wolf inquired. He titled his head to study the crudely drawn map. “But everything else is east?”

It would be easiest to reach a pack on the near side of the river. He surmised that the eastern settlements must not have originated from the west, or there would be more of them here. Making it more difficult to reach Portland – the largest localized city – did not make sense to him.

Before he could get another question out, a howl rose from nearby. Catskill's ears twitched. He stood again, listening. A second, shorter call from the same voice followed. He answered with his own rolling howl.

“My partner,” he assured Kyrios a beat later. “She went to look for shelter, and it sounds like she may 'ave found some. I would like to know more about this place,” Catskill added, returning to look down at the sketch in the dirt. “Eef you would like to join us, I am going to make a fire. Help keep you and your horse warm, eh?”

Getting across the river was only one part of the journey. A local's wisdom would be invaluable.
Confronted with a map, crudely drawn as it was, gave Kyrios a context he had, perhaps, sought to avoid in his journey thus far. It gave shape to the land and what lay beyond, and it forced him to think about the inevitable encounters that would come. What was he really doing back here, anyway? What was he going to do, if he met a Salsolan? If he met former clanmates? Family? He did not want to think that death and shame were all that lay ahead, but neither could he convince himself of alternatives.

"A star fell near here a few years ago," Kyrios said. "I think it must have disturbed the earth a fair bit... there were quakes not long after, and I've heard they've continued intermittently since then."

The hybrid did not believe in gods or greater powers. He didn't know if the ground or the sky had a spirit. Sometimes it was easier to think in that way -- that days with rain were due to some fickle mood of the sky, and so on. But even if the earth was not imbued with some personality, it was not hard to think that a star striking it would cause some reaction. A rock thrown against a mountain could cause a rockslide if it was big enough, or thrown hard enough. A tree half-chopped would fall eventually. This was just the way of the world, whether or not gods inhabited it.

"North and east of the big river," he clarified, marking a rough "x" where he thought Del Cenere must be, nestled among the many tributaries and lakes. It would be a cumbersome journey, to either cross so many rivers or to go around it all. But it was a fair distance from Salsola, so Kyrios thought that it was probably on purpose.

He startled at the nearby call and felt his body immediately tense, hand curling around his arrow tightly. A single wolf trader was one thing, but he wasn't sure how he felt about two, especially in close quarters. But even if he didn't bunk with the traders, he would need to be situated nearby. The wind was picking up and the small town was logically the best place to stay until morning. Better to keep the strangers where he could see them, maybe?

"Sure, why not?" he replied with a smile. "It'll be unwise to travel further today, so I had the same plan."

Kyrios stood, returned the arrow to his quiver, then returned the quiver and bow to his back before taking hold of Zaku's reins and gesturing broadly in the direction the call had come. "Lead the way."

The wolf blinked with surprise at how casually the explanation – which sounded outrageous to his ears – was delivered. Was the coyote joking with him?
Could stars fall out of the sky?

Kyrios' mark seemed further north than he expected. It was well beyond the river – across lakes, if this map was to be believed. The further north they got the more likely snowfall would be. Though he did not know it, the Del Cenere Gang was likely to be hostile towards his presence. The violence wrought between wolves and coyotes was the sort of thinking that Catskill felt removed from. He had, after all, never really dealt with coyotes.

He'd be better able to pick Kyrios' brain once they were settled. Catskill whistled at Hawksaw, who lifted his head with what could best be described as a look of annoyed exhaustion.

“Soon, Hawksaw!” The wolf exclaimed. He tossed his head and gave his shaggy neck a shake.

Though the snow had obscured some of the tracks, it was easy enough to pick out the pawprints left behind by the she-wolf. Catskill followed these and Hawksaw followed him, plodding along at an easy pace despite their added company. The roads in Searsport had once been man-made and while they were now plenty overgrown, the trees had yet to fully encroach into the concrete and asphalt remnants. There were signs of the destruction all around – rubble from structures that had given way after one or more disasters, objects made of rusty metal and broken glass that had been destroyed by time and exposure to the elements.

The dark building that eventually loomed ahead of them looked solid enough. It was here that they found Ukiuk.

She was, like Catskill, in her Secui form. Almost entirely white, the she-wolf was easy to see against the darker gray and ugly brown of the city. Though her smaller, rounded ears and fluffy fur made her look much softer than she seemed, her stern expression fixed upon the stranger with taught attention.

“He is a friend,” Catskill called. When she did not look at him, he switched to their native language and went on: <“He is from here, he is going to tell us about it.”>

She frowned when she looked at him. Catskill took the opportunity to introduce Kyrios, and Ukiuk gave her name rather flatly. She turned back towards the building. “It will fit all of us,” the she-wolf announced, leading them through the entryway of a large loading dock.

“Oh bravo,” Catskill complimented his partner on her find once they made their way indoors.
Kyrios had a feeling that Catskill's partner wouldn't be as friendly or welcoming of his company and smiled ruefully at her curt introduction, bowing his head slightly to her. It often seemed to him that women, and loner women in particular, were impatient, condescending, and short with him, as if his mere presence threatened them or made them feel like they needed to prove themselves in some way. Once upon a time, he had loved teasing such women, but in the wilds, this was dangerous, and the small joy and habit had left him rather quickly.

The hybrid's ears perked at the French. Wasn't it enough that they outnumbered him without them also having a secret language between them? But maybe it was his own fault for never bothering to learn despite a few opportunities to. There had been French speakers in Inferni for a time, hadn't there? And he had run into them here and there before. Some greetings and words were easy to remember, but any full sentence remained beyond his understanding.

The inside of the warehouse was cavernous, but the space wasn't entirely empty. Metal boats, rusted and worn, were heaped inside, all in disarray. The tattered, half-dissentigrated remains of cardboard boxes, clothes from skeletons, tools, and other garbage were scattered in the corners. Near the center of the space was an empty area and the ashy, sooty remains of an old fire where some other traveler had kept themselves warm at some point.

Kyrios looked up. Where the walls met the tall ceiling on two sides of the building, several small, horizontal windows allowed snow to drift in. Wind whistled through as well, but the windows were too high up for the chill to be felt.

The hybrid led Zaku to the capsized shell of an old boat. He switched her bridle for a halter, tied the lead loosely around a hook on the boat, then began to remove his various bags and things. There was no need to unpack, but she could at least sleep and rest without carrying weight.

He turned back to his companions. "I can search for firewood after my horse is settled," he said. A gesture of trust, if there was any. "Though there might be enough old trash in here we can burn."

Others had come to this place before them. It hadn't just been Luperci, though this was the only explanation for the campfire's remains. There were things in here which hadn't survived the apocalypse and the long years that came after, but looting had done its fair share of work.

He didn't think about humans all that much, but coming across their remains – bones and all these too-tall buildings and metal things – always made him wonder about these strange before-times. Catskill had asked Ukiuk about it the first time they went through a city like this. She insisted her lore and legends were older still. According to her, wolves had always been around. Only the world changed.

It didn't seem all that different. This area was overgrown and quiet. There were fewer buildings in the north. Catskill hadn't grown up in a building, nor did he think he'd ever want to live in one, but appreciated the shelter they offered.

By the time Catskill had shifted, there was talk of fire. Ukiuk, sitting and looking terribly disinterested in the whole ordeal, said nothing.

Catskill, on two legs now, had gotten a hold of his mule. He nodded appreciatively to Kyrios. There was undoubtedly an amount of good-faith trust that needed to be shared by travelers. They did not need to be friendly, or overly helpful, but there was a greater danger – the dangerous, unknown stranger, or the greater, physical threat winter posed.

“I have a fire-starter,” the wolf offered. “Burn only wood, yes? Eef you burn other things they will stink up the air.” He did not know exactly what all those materials were, but landfill fires – and worst of all, tire fires – were not unknown to the trader. In his travels there had been plenty more than the endless wilderness. Hundreds of years of destruction had been left behind. They could not avoid these traces while they lived in places where human bones could be found.

The greater dangers – silent, seeping into the groundwater and irradiating the very earth itself – were still out there.

Catskill was more concerned with his goods and getting a cigarette lit.

He unloaded the sacks and bags and rope from Hawksaw on his own. When he was finished, he approached Kyrios. “Once we can talk, I would like to hear more about the rivers.”
In many ways, Kyrios considered the leftovers of human civilisation a natural part of the landscape, the same as any tree or river. Buildings were just more sophisticated versions of pre-dug dens, there to be repurposed and reinhabited over the years. A fox den could be used for many seasons, often by the same pair, but sometimes another animal would move in when the kits are grown -- wolverines to the north, badgers to the south; sometimes a bear would enlarge it, and so on. Or over time, it could be overlooked and abandoned. The earth would move back into the space that had been hollowed out, and eventually, the den would be gone.

So was the case with these walls and ceilings. Luperci reinforced some of them, patching over holes and rebuilding walls -- or they let them decay. And those in between, like the hanger, were left to rot but on occasion, used by passersby to shelter from the storm.

"Agreed," Kyrios said. He didn't often consider burning other materials anyway -- there was plenty of wood around, after all. The problem would only be finding some that was dry enough.

Once Zaku was freed of all her burden, the hybrid gave her a few quick brushings with a metal curry comb before facing the storm outside. Ultimately, he didn't have much he'd miss if his temporary companions decided to rob him. The most annoying things to replace would be his carving and butchering tools, though such things had become more commonplace over the last several years, at least in more densely populated areas. Kyrios would hear it if they tried to run off with his horse, but given the storm, that was very unlikely.

Even if they were thieves, it was better to wait until the storm to pass before doing anything suspicious, right? Kyrios felt sure in his reasoning, but he still worried that easy logic would betray him someday.

Luckily, he wasn't out in the storm again for long. A tree had collapsed through the open windows of a building not too far away, perhaps knocked over by some other storm. The branches inside were of a good size and decently dry, which made them easy to break off as well. He trotted back to the hanger with an armful of small logs, and they were able to get a fire going in short order.

"The rivers are long, wide, and fast," Kyrios explained. "Annoying. You've come from the north, right? What about this area interests you?"
While they were alone, the two wolves talked.

<“Do you think he is telling the truth?”>

<“Why would he be lying, eh?”>

<“To rob you.”>

<“Hah, if he was going to rob us he would not have left his horse here.”>

<“He may have stolen the horse too.”>

<“I do not think he is lying. Besides, there are two of us.”>

The white wolf only grunted.

She remained on four legs as the men handled the fire. Catskill suspected the decision was a matter of energy conservation and precaution – she would be fast and difficult to fight if the man did attack them.

As the heat of the fire spread and began to warm the air, droplets of moisture formed and fell from their pelts. The bags of goods behind Catskill had been carefully opened and situated to allow them to dry without forcing the trader to expose his wares. One container was notable in its design – the wicker basket was lined with plush fur and handsome straps. These had been undone, though the lid was still closed.

Catskill stretched out his legs and nodded to confirm Kyrios' question. “Yes, we did. Not as far north as some,” he added. “I have heard of this place from others. If there are people who may want my business, it is not fair for me to deprive them of it.” The wolf laughed.

“Are you returning home?” Catskill asked.
It was rare that merchents had items that Kyrios found himself wanting, but he was generally curious about others' trades and liked to look over them and ask questions. Many found this annoying, of course, particularly in marketplaces where they were all convinced that he was preventing some actual customer from making an exchange. The hybrid doubted this was usually the case. Most goods weren't as difficult ot come by as traders would like others to believe, or else they weren't really that useful. And it was funny, too, to hear a salesman dig deep, trying to convince him of the value of some useless thing, whether it was an obscure human artifact or some Luperci-made talisman.

Quality fur and leather fell into a category of items that were somewhat difficult to obtain or create while being generally useful, so Kyrios supposed that there would always be demand for it. Deer hide was cheap, but the pelts of predator species tended to be much warmer and more luxurious. Properly made leather required an entire process, such that it was usually only established packs that had the resources to make it.

"True enough," Kyrios said, echoing the other's laugh. "I'm sure the furs will go over well. There are a decent number of dogs and mongrels here that have shorter hair. The winters aren't as harsh here as in the north, but they're unpleasant enough at times. Ice and wet can be worse than snow."

He couldn't tell the specifics of what Catskill carried from the glimpses he'd had, but the coyote's own wares were easy enough to see. Bows and arrows didn't conceal well, but he didn't often try, either. His sparse baggage kept his various tools and smaller trinkets out of sight, but the wooden bows and excess quivers of arrows were tied to the outside of bags wherever there was space, and all of them now lay in a heap next to his his horse.

"There's no home to return to," Kyrios said casually. "But I'm curious to see where people have scattered, how things have changed." He honestly didn't have a better answer, even if he had any desire to elaborate. He wasn't sure what sort of closure he sought, or what he expected to find. He didn't know how much strength the restless rage in the pit of his stomach to grow. He didn't know how much he wanted to face disappointment in himself again.

"What sort of goods do you typically seek in exchange for your furs? Were there things from this area that interested you?"
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The wolf's smile suggested that he was grateful to hear opportunity was indeed ahead of him. Most of his clientele in the south had been strange looking dogs or small, pointy things that reminded him of foxes. He was getting used to the idea of coyotes and jackals, but they were still largely foreign things. Wolves and dogs had been all he had known for a long time.

Fur was important all around, of course. Clothing for some, bedding for others. It was better to stay warm than to freeze. Good pelts could be used for all sorts of things, from the fur itself to the felt which could come from it. There were perhaps no true tanneries here, which again, was promising. His supplies would be more valuable if they were uncommon.

“Ice is indeed the worst,” Catskill said, and repeated this in French with more colorful terms. Ukiuk rolled her eyes. There was a quiet squeak from within the wicker basket, though neither of the wolves seemed to acknowledge it.

“Ah well, that I will see, eh? I like things that are well made, and things that catch my eye. Not only am I a trader, but I am a hunter and a trapper too,” he explained with a flourish of his hand. “And I will always see what supplies might be of use to my work.”

Catskill shifted his weight and leaned forward, closer to the fire. “You are from here, yes? What treasure does your homeland hold, Kyrios?”
pping your slinky rat! lmk if you want any edits. 8D

His large ears swept forward at the rustling from the basket, following which a wave of musk reached him. It wasn't a common scent, exactly, but it was one that was difficult to forget, strong as it was.

"Of course," Kyrios said with a small laugh. "A fur trader would doesn't hunt and trap his own fur would be suspect, I think. Easier to trade your goods when you know it well than to try and remember what the person you got it from told you."

Though in his own case, knowing so much about his own goods made him a stingy salesman, unwilling to part with things he'd spent long hours on for cheap trinkets. But he was well aware of the value of quality weaponry, and if he couldn't talk up the random things he'd obtained from others as well, it was simply because he didn't think they were actually that valuable and it didn't seem a worthwhile effort to pretend otherwise.

"Horses, maybe," he said of the area's goods. Truthfully, he had never thought much of trade then. The coywolf had never wanted for much, so the prospect was largely uninteresting. Horses and tack were readily available, and everything else he made for himself. What would he trade for? He'd had everything he'd needed, and even knowing how lucky he'd been, he'd taken it all for granted. "A lot of well-bred, well-trained animals here. I've long heard there's good drink, but I'm afraid I can't vouch for that myself."

Another squeak rose from the basket behind the wolves and this time, the top rose slightly as a small creature pushed itself against it. It wasn't strong enough to make enough of a gap to escape though, and so it followed up with a round of furious scratching against the basket's insides.

Kyrios grinned. "A pet?"
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“It would be strange, eh?” Catskill asked. He grinned again, showing his big teeth. “I'd be a fool or a thief otherwise.” He laughed here, as if this was now a joke between them.

They had not yet robbed one another, which seemed promising. The wolf doubted that Kyrios would slit their throats while they slept. This was part of the reason he had a partner, and part of the reason he had his little collection of living animals.

Horses as currency surprised him. While plenty of those in the larger trading hubs had used animals to move goods or carry themselves, Catskill was less inclined to keeping horses. He found them more trouble than their worth. Donkeys and mules, though smaller, were smarter and hardier. Still, imagining there to be a secret collection of rare, exceptional horses hiding out in this lonesome place was enchanting. A good story could sometimes make an otherwise boring item become exciting and magical.

He wanted to ask more about the horses, but the familiar slap of the lid failing to open on its own caught their new companion's attention. Catskill sighed.

“Ah, something like that. Hey, you miserable rodent,”
he leaned over and help give the lid the final push it needed.

Freed, what sprung forth was a small, white weasel. Only the tip of its tail was still dark, though this was hard to see as the small animal began to dart about with chaotic speed. Though neither Hawksaw nor Ukiuk seemed bothered by this, Catskill watched him run with a sort of pleased annoyance that betrayed his affection for the beady-eyed animal.

“Hey!” He finally snapped, clapping his hands. The stoat flipped over, rolled dramatically away, and then bounced back with a renewed ferocity when Catskill produced a piece of dried meat.

The moment the little creature was close enough, the wolf grabbed him with his other hand.

“Caught you,” he taunted the stoat, and called him a few more colorful terms that sounded more affectionate than their meanings. Trapped in Catskill's grip, food became a needed distraction to the sharp teeth that now sought purchase against their living prison. “Here he is. Behold,” Catskill presented the stoat (not letting him go, for obvious reasons) so Kyrios could better see. “LaVern.”
Each time he came across someone with a pet, Kyrios considered that it might be nice to have one around, or even a companion of sorts, if they were of a sort that deigned themselves better than a mere pet. His scarred mother and her crow had been partners, as had been Fermi and his falcon. An eye in the sky would always be a benefit, but there was certainly something to be said for mere companionship, too.

Zaku had neatly filled that position though, and Kyrios was grateful every day for her steadiness and patience. His constant excuse was that he didn't want to commit to the care of another creature -- there had been enough close calls with his horse. He was a poor protector, and this he had proven enough times.

The weasel paused a brief moment to sniff at the hybrid, but seemed to lose interest almost immediately and resumed wrestling against the hands that held him. Kyrios laughed lightly. "You must spoil him," he said, grinning. "He seems a petulant one."

A small and mostly self-sufficient creature was probably a safe choice. If it came down to it, such an animal could escape notice and escape threat. It wouldn't turn the tides in a fight, if it chose to fight at all, but at least its death needn't weigh on him.

"Does he speak? Or are you able to speak to him?"

wc: 263
We can probably wrap up with your post? :>
“Hah,” Catskill barked. “I like that word. Yes, petulant,” the wolf agreed.

“He does,” Ukuik added flatly. She had begun to relax a little more, especially now that the air was warming up and the promise of food was near.

“Why shouldn't I, eh? I tried to teach him to speak,” Catskill explained. His companion's comments did not seem to bother the male wolf, who continued to feed the hungry stoat by hand. “All he picked up was how to curse. I think he knows what we say good enough, though.”

A creature with LaVern's curiosity and natural drives could certainly have escaped at any given time. He had tried before, on many occasions. The stoat was a miserable spy and a horrible thief, but his value had become less practical. It was a sign of wealth, Catskill thought, and indeed his own capabilities. Besides, how could a person not admire the luster of the little animal's coat? LaVern brought attention to Catskill, who both delighted in this and sought to use it to further his own business.

The stoat, finished with his food, sniffed at Catskill's empty fingers. No longer distracted by the meat, the little animal seemed to finally realize there was more to their company. He peered up at the stranger, nose working furiously.

He did speak – in a high, sharp way that suited his frame. “Va te crosser!”

Ukiuk laughed, while Catskill looked – for the first time – annoyed.

The she-wolf turned to their guest. “His pet has no manners. He said for you to fuck off.”
How nice it is to finish threads. :) ♥

There was certainly a difference in making a companion of a smaller predator than a hardy prey animal. Kyrios had been around horses his entire life and so had never really seen them as food, but still, while he considered them to be reasonably intelligent creatures, they were not things that could ever learn to speak. Stark's words, like Alien's, and now LaVern's, had been limited and often punctuated and rude, but they had been words. It was fascinating, really, and the hybrid maintained his grin, even as the weasel apparently cursed at him.

He turned and reached for one of his own bags, drawing out another piece of dried meat. "Curse at me, will you?" he laughed. "I suspect you're an easy creature to ply, though."

Outside, the snow lightened while the wind picked up and battered the walls of the old hanger, whistling shrilly through the high-hung windows. Though the door to their shelter was wide and open, the gusts blew parallel to him, sparing them too much of an indoor whirlwind.

The weasel had a second meal, and the canines had their first. Kyrios enjoyed an easy, casual sort of rapport with the brownish wolf while his cross companion occasionally interjected with a sarcastic remark. Eventually, there was quiet between them, and perhaps some periods of light sleep. Kyrios trusted that he wouldn't be robbed for as long as the storm raged, though by morning, even the wind had quieted and the dawn reached a clear sky.

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