[AW] signs of collapse
North of St. John. Early evening, 13th December 2020.

He'd forgotten about the river.

There were numerous bridges that crossed it. Some were monstrous concrete structures that must have, at one time, risen high into the sky, reaching over the water with plenty of room to spare. Some were far more humble, little wooden tunnels that crossed the river at its thinnest, least treacherous points. In between were various bridges of rusting metal, browning with age, often with beams rotted off here and there.

When he'd visited Freetown during the days of its former glory, most of the the bridges had been usable. They'd been in various stages of collapse, certainly, but they must have been built to withstand far heavier loads than a single canine and his horse. Sometimes there were breaks in the middle of bridges, random holes, or other accidents waiting for the distracted fool, but a carefully led, surefooted horse could cross an old concrete bridge without issue.

After the star, after the fire, many of the bridges were no longer safe. Usable wooden bridges no longer existed. He remembered angrily following the river north and then south again, looking for a place the cross. The ground underneath the structures had collapsed in many cases -- the bridges themselves were sometimes only a little damaged (the metal ones seemed to fare best), but even intact, they did little good if they no longer connected the two sides of the river.

Kyrios couldn't remember where he'd ended up crossing.

The bridge before him was metal and concrete and seemed to stretch successfully over the angry rapids below, but it was difficult to tell in the dark. The days had become too short.

He wasn't in enough of a hurry to take the risk. He never was.

The hybrid turned from the bridge and surveyed the area around it. The terrain sloped suddenly when it reached the river, transitioning almost immediately from grass and shrub to rock and moss. There weren't many trees in the area, but it didn't seem like it would rain that night. They'd been lucky that the weather had been fairly mild, especially for the winter.

Zaku nosed around the bushes some distance from the bridge.

"I guess it's fine to camp here for the night," he said, ostensibly to his horse. "If you're finished with your constant snacking, I'd like to get dinner, too."

The dark bay mare ignored him and Kyrios laughed quietly. The area around the human city was quiet. He hadn't seen much but mice and crows for the last several miles anyway. Maybe it would just be a preserved meat sort of night.
-quietly steals this- Catskill is in his Optime form.

Getting across the river was the real challenge, just like Kyrios had said it would be.

For two days they had headed east. Hunting had been good on the second, though unexpected – Catskill was surprised by the amount of prey he found in the region and took this as a boon. The lack of predators was certainly an illusion: they had seem tracks in the snow that suggested otherwise, and come across what looked like claw marks in bark.

They had surprised the deer, that was all. A wrong turn, a part of the ground that wasn't as safe as it seemed, and that was that. It was a mercy killing in the end, and provided more than enough meat to feed the two wolves for the next several days.

The problem came with what lay ahead. Even from a distance they could see the river's current was stronger than the last. It was wider, and likely deeper. The sight of sea-birds told him that they were not far from the ocean, though he could not smell it from here.

What he did smell, mostly, was the gore left behind from skinning the animal. It wasn't the best pelt, but it was something – and it would be easier to carry pieces of a deer across the river instead of a stiff, frozen corpse. Besides, he could make cording with anything that wasn't up to par. A few clever cuts and no one would be any the wiser. He had plenty to consider as he washed the blood from his hands, though mostly his thoughts focused on his more basic needs: he was hungry after all that, and the water was frigid to the touch.

He hadn't expected to find the coyote again. Catskill found his trail near the shore and followed it until the sight of the archer and his horse emerged against the encroaching darkness. Though he lacked his warmer clothing and talismans, Catskill was still large enough to cut an impressive sight on his own. He still sorely wished he could have made a proper impression on the wandering native son.

Bonjour, mon ami! Catskill called. “I would say you are following me eef I was not the one who had found you. You were right about this river – eet is much bigger than the last.”
It might have been a trick of winter, but the lowlands seemed lonelier and quieter than when he'd left them.

The rushing of the river was the loudest feature of the land. The crows called out occasionally as the sun dropped below the horizon, but they'd become silent by the time his fire was burning. Perhaps they saw that he'd decided not to hunt for the evening and given up to go somewhere else. The hybrid gnawed tiredly on a piece of jerky, which didn't lend itself to dropping scraps. It was a useful travel snack, but he wasn't enthused about having an entire meat of it.

Zaku snorted softly at the silhouette on the horizon and Kyrios lifted his gaze to follow hers. He hadn't expected to run into the wolf again, but he supposed it wasn't a surprise. They were roughly heading in the same direction and there were only so many feasible-looking bridges. Grinning, Kyrios stood and gave a casual wave.

"It's definitely an annoying one," he said of the river. "I think this bridge might be passable, but it'll be easier to tell in the morning."

The scent of fresh blood and deer reached him slowly, but seemed to hang in the cold, still air when it did. "Seems like you got luckier with your dinner than me," he said. "You and your friend can't eat all of it, so you might as well share, right?" He laughed. "There's plenty of space around this fire."
“Ah, so she is the way,” the trader exclaimed, turning to face the bridge. The wide, flat surface looked like the road they had been following. Water was flowing across it, he thought – in the falling light, he couldn't be sure.

Waiting was the correct choice.

Catskill grinned and tilted his head up with a small amount of pride. “I like how you think. A bold man invites himself to dine, eh? If you think this is how we must go, then perhaps it is best if we all camp together. I will return,” he announced.

The wolf made his way back towards where Ukiuk, Hawksaw, and a suspiciously fat looking LaVern were waiting. He explained his discovery to the she-wolf, who was less enthusiastic than the trader. She did, however, seem interested in the idea of the bridge crossing. They had known the river would be big, but it was much wider and far faster than either of them had really expected.

They returned all at once, with Catskill leading his mule and Ukiuk not far behind. It was fairly obvious that they had gained quite a bit of fresh meat. Even with the air cold, it was not frigid enough to freeze – and the scent of it was obvious for any canine with a working nose.

“Here he is, I told you,” Catskill said to his companion.

“Hello again.”

“Now, let me see. Ah, here,” the wolf reached into the meat-sack and pulled out a substantial looking bundle. “Loin for tonight. Best eat it fresh.”

While he set about untying this, Ukiuk turned to Kyrios. “How far north does this river flow?”
Though some had criticised him for the position, Kyrios had never cared much about presenting himself in an impressive manner. For most hunters, it was a point of pride to be able to provide food for themselves and their clans -- Kyrios had been proud of this, too. But he had nothing to prove to anyone, even then. Whether or not anyone thought him an impressive hunter or archer was irrelevant as long as he still provided, and though he never liked it when people told him they were expecting it, at the end of the day, he'd still provided.

Not wasting fresh meat really had nothing to do with whether he could hunt for himself, anyway. Was it bold to ask? He didn't really think so, but he laughed anyway.

And he hoped that this really was the right way to go. Would Catskill think he was less competent if it wasn't? Ukiuk certainly would. Did it matter? Probably not. It wasn't his responsibility to guide them; they couldn't expect that of him, surely.

"Thanks," the hybrid said, accepting the bundle of meat with another grin. "Dried meat is easier to travel with, but nothing beats having it fresh."

He leaned against his horse as he sat down. Zaku shook her head slightly, as if to disapprove of his having his meal so close to her, but she made no motion to move, probably because she wanted to be near the fire.

"Quite a ways north, I think," Kyrios said, turning to the white wolf. "It splits up a few times, so it's hard to say. Part of it goes back west. There are a bunch of lakes it flows into, also, but I'm not too familiar with how the lakes are laid out. There didn't used to be packs in that area, so there was no reason to go, but that seems to have changed now."

“It is always best when it is fresh. I have cooked eet before, but the smell carries. Eet was bad enough skinning it,” Catskill complained, undoing a similar bundle for his companion.

The she-wolf was more obviously cautious than her companion, who seemed to fully accept that Kyrios – while not a friend – was the sort of familiar traveling companion that came with common routes. They would split again, as their destinations took them to different places, but for now, an alliance had been forged.

There was risk in trusting strangers, but they weren't all bad.

Kyrios' knowledge of the rivers and what lay north of them only cemented the necessity of their crossing. It would be one thing to go around the narrow end of a river – it would be another entirely to contend with lakes of unknown quantity and depth. The sharp look that Ukiuk cast in Catskill's direction confirmed her thoughts on the matter.

he grunted. “Well, I suppose we will see how it looks in the light.”

Dawn was slow coming in winter, and nearly as cold as night. The sky was cloudy when they woke. This was favorable for one reason only – too much sunlight would make the snow and ice that had formed elsewhere melt and cause the river to run high. With pieces of the bridge already partially submerged, the threat of flooding seemed all too reasonable.

It didn't take a lot for the river to win. Luperci and the animals they kept were nothing compared to the power of deep, running water.

Ukiuk had taken to two legs. She was not as tall as her companion, and looked younger than she really was. The fierce near-scowl of her expression seemed fixed like a hawk's gaze. Getting across the river was a challenge, even if it was supposedly done by others. The very real danger that lay ahead of them was sobering.

“Would you like to go first?”
Catskill asked Kyrios. He was leading the mule Hawksaw directly now, and the basket containing LaVern was firmly strapped closed.
In some ways, the river seemed more treacherous in the daylight because he could see the speed of the water clearly now. In the darkness, the rush had been mostly sound; the shape of the current could not be seen, and the amount of foam, dictating a certain strength, was lost in the night. It was different to fear the sound of the abyss and a crude darkness. Now there was the sight of a simple death: a grey mass, frothing at the mouth, angrily flowing to the ocean.

The metal sides of bridge had become a rusted brown long ago, but aside from this, there was little visible damage. The rails were sharp, straight lines for the most part, with only a few bent parts near the base on their side. The floor of the bridge was concrete that seemed to meld with the rocky terrain on either side of the river. With the abundance of moss, it was impossible to tell where the rock ended and the unnatural flooring began. At some point, the bridge was slightly arched and reached across the water with ease -- now it was broken in the middle, with the two pieces of the arch touching at the center, in a rather harsh angle.

Still, the railing on either side still met at the center, so falling into the river would theoretically be difficult as long as the supports held.

Kyrios grasped a piece of the railing at the foot of the bridge with both his hands and shook as hard as he could. The rusted metal groaned but didn't move much at all.

Smiling wearily, the hybrid nodded. "All right. My load is lighter than yours anyway, I think."

It was possible that Zaku was heavier than the wolves' mule, but the latter was more laden with goods and Kyrios was sure that Catskill weighed more than him.

"All right, lady," he said to the dark bay mare. "Let's get across then."

He stroked her nose then stepped tentatively onto the bridge. Holding firmly onto her bridle, he slowly crossed the first half of the bridge. When they reached the gap, Zaku stopped, took a step back, and tossed her head. For about six feet, water flowed over the break, though Kyrios felt sure that the two pieces of the bridge still provided ample support beneath. There couldn't be more than a foot or two of water before the concrete.

Letting go of his horse a moment, the hybrid grimaced and stuck a foot into the freezing water and started to walk across the gap. When the water reached his mid-thigh about a third of the way into the gap, he turned back. "It's still strong enough to walk on here!" he called back to Catskill and Ukiuk. "Shallow enough for a horse I think, but they can probably just jump it, too."

He looked back to Zaku. "What do you think, love," he muttered. She didn't respond directly, of course, but she backed up further from the gap. "Yeah, I think that's easier too," he said. "If the gap is that shallow, the other side probably isn't too damaged. Should be able to take our weight as well as this side."

Hoisting himself onto the mare's back, Kyrios backed her up several paces before moving forward to jump. Zaku cleared the four foot gap easily and landed on the second half of the bridge. With the momentum, they were on the other side of the river just a few seconds later and Kyrios felt stress he hadn't even realised he'd been holding dissipate into the gloomy morning.
wc: 523
The ruins were different in all places. Sometimes they found great winding pieces of metal that seemed to once be paths. Catskill had seen railways before and understood what they must have once been, but he did not comprehend how things of such great size could be moved. Even the remnants of cars confused him, though these were becoming fewer as rust consumed them.

Stone and brick were longer lasting. Concrete too, though in places like this where forces of greater magnitude had struck the destruction was most apparent.

If this was the only way, it was the way they would follow.

At first there was not much said – they were all focused on the crossing itself. The bridge was solid enough underfoot but the water ahead was the true risk. As they slowed and Catskill began to consider their options, Kyrios stepped into the running water. The act cemented the wolf's opinion of the coyote, who had proven a capable traveling partner thus far.

His horse seemed less eager to walk in the water, however. This was, again, part of the trouble with horses. They were flighty things and fussy. He would need to remember the running water if they were to look into horses, though the thought of bringing them across and needing to deal with this all over again sounded immensely annoying.

Kyios climbed atop his mount and together they made a triumphant leap across the gap. Catskill whistled.

<<“Can he do that?”>> Ukiuk asked of Hawksaw.

Catskill turned to his mule. The big animal was carrying a large load, and though he was capable of jumping, the idea of forcing him to cover such a large distance seemed troublesome. The wolf frowned.

<<“Let's see what he wants,”>> the fur-trader eventually decided. When he turned to Ukiuk, she had already advanced into the water. She was moving quickly and with fierce determination in a way that suggested this crossing was not ideal for her either. Catskill waited for the she-wolf to make it through, worried that if Hawksaw did jump he would come crashing down on her head.

Now came the moment of truth. Catskill led the mule to the edge of the running water.

Hawksaw simply waded in. Though his owner did not realize it, the mule had determined for himself that this was the way the rest of the group was heading. Beyond that, Ukiuk's crossing proved it possible.

Despite this, the mule moved a little slower once the water got up to his belly. With Catskill tagging alongside him, the two made the crossing well enough. In a few places Catskill felt most and slick ground underfoot, and guided Hawksaw away from these. Slipping would be more dangerous with all those goods on his back.

Once the water grew shallow, the wolf's confidence soared.

<<“Look at him!”>> Catskill crowed to Ukiuk as they reached dry ground once more. <<“Unshaken! A testament to his courage,”>> the wolf went on. He turned to the mule.<<“You wonderful long-eared masterpiece!”>>

Though considerably damp around the legs, the two wolves and mule continued across the bridge without any further difficulty.
Safely on the other side of the river, Kyrios dismounted again and shook himself off the best he could. His legs were freezing, but there wasn't much to do about it with all of his blankets stowed tightly among his luggage. He hoped that they would dry off quickly enough once they were moving again.

Turning back to the bridge, the hybrid watched while his accidental companions crossed the half-submerged gap in the bridge and shivered. Aside from his horse, he would be the least wet among them, so there would be no complaining, he supposed. Kyrios grinned when the wolves and their mule arrived back on land and offered a short, celebratory howl. Catskill's words slid over his ears like water, but his excitement and pride were easy enough to decipher.

"Excellent!" the coywolf said. "Though perhaps we should take a moment to dry off." As if on cue, the wind picked up, pulling a sharp chill against his damp legs.

He didn't want to lose an entire day's travel, but it probably better to got get ill, either. An hour with a fire would still leave them enough daylight to shuffle along further east.
wc: 455
Damp fur and supplies wouldn't do them any good moving onward. Catskill was already thinking the same when Kyrios voiced his idea aloud.

“Yes, I think that would be best. Ukiuk, will you find us wood? I'm going to unpack,” he explained. The wolf lifted a hand to shield his eyes and looked at the area they had come to. While the city continued on for several miles, there was plenty of overgrowth already to be found. Trees and oddly squared patches of overgrown bushes and frosty looking grasses weren't all that far from the asphalt beneath their feet.

“Let's try over there,” he pointed the little park out. “Away from the wind.”

The campfire was blazing and Catskill was finally finished pulling the last of the pelts out of the pack. While the upper sacks had not gotten wet enough to concern him, the lower bags had – as he feared – taken on more water than he would have liked. This wouldn't have been so bad if the weather mild, but in extremes of hot and cold the furs became more susceptible to damage. 

A few other items, like the noisy pouch full of beads and the little wooden box full of dried tobacco, were examined and moved around until the wolf was satisfied with what he could feel and smell.

It was a collection of fur pelts and novelty pieces that looked suited for the type of trade Catskill was in. He pointed out his own coat to Kyrios when he brought it out, wanting the archer to recognize his own prized work and pieces. Wolverines were very rare, and hard to kill. He thought they and the supposedly-clever fox suited his looks, especially when the rust colored fur contrasted so nicely against his own. There were plenty of unique colors in his collection, including iridescent feathers bundled together and kept carefully away from the open flames.

Ukiuk was picking through their collection of still-fresh deer meat. Though they had eaten the night before, with miles of travel ahead of them the thought of a full belly sounded terribly appealing. There was plenty of meat to go around still, and Kyrios had already proven himself a trustworthy travel companion.

The bridge had been a hazardous part of the journey. Celebration wasn't entirely out of order.

“If we are going to eat,” Catskill announced, freeing his hands from the thick beaver pelt now sprawled out near the others. “I think I will smoke. Do you smoke? I can make you a cigarette,” he told Kyrios. Though they owed him no true guide's fee, Catskill wanted to ensure that the coyote understood he was grateful for his help.
He ended up using a small, patchwork quilt (it was more of an oversized rag, than anything, and that was what he used it as) of scavenged fabrics to dry himself off, though the heat from the fire did most of the work. His few bags and pile of bows, quivers, and arrows lay in a small heap next to him while his horse grazed nearby in the overgrowth, apparently very pleased with the slow start to the day.

Kyrios watched with interest while Catskill went through his goods methodically, commenting appreciatively here and there at a particularly impressive fur. There were many patterns that he didn't recognise offhand, though he could tell from the thickness and plushness of some specimens that they were definitely predator species, which tended towards more protective coats than prey.

Distantly, he wondered if the wolves had the pelts of any of their fellows. Even if it seemed doubtful that they'd murder anyone just for their fur, if they came across a body, or if a death occurred some other way, would they consider keeping the fur? Theirs was certainly of a good quality. It was a morbid idea, and he kept it to himself.

"I don't, but thank you," he said.

Kyrios had never really understood the attraction to smoking. Even smokes of the normal sort often gave him a dull headache, but in the open air, it was a lot more tolerable. The smoke from the fire and the smell of burning wood overpowered it all anyway. He wasn't really sure why the qualities of different things burning were so different. Wasn't everything the same once it became ash?

"It's an impressive collection you've got there," he continued, gesturing broadly. "I don't often see things I want, but I must admit I'm a little jealous of some of those blankets." He grinned. "I don't suppose you've any use at all for a bow and some arrows? I can promise that they're very well made."
wc: 317
It would not surprise Catskill to find wolves wearing the skins of their brethren. The idea was a morbid one, but logical enough – if a person did not worry themselves about where their garments game from, who would be any the wiser? Morality was what stopped them from doing such outrageous things. Ukiuk would certainly be among those to point out there was something very wrong when it came to turning other Luperci into blankets and bags.

Not everyone thought like her, of course. In many places of the world wretchedness and taboo events went on unchecked.

Catskill used a stray stick from the fire to light the tip of his cigarette. He took a moment to get this situated – inhaling, working the ash so the tobacco did not burn too quickly – before following Kyrios' motion to his collection. The wolf grinned and puffed out his chest proudly.

“They are nice, aren't they? Feel them, go ahead,” the trapper insisted.

He was debating the usefulness of Kyrios' offer when Ukiuk spoke up.

“May I try one?” She asked.

Surprised by this, her companion's brows lifted. She had never alluded to using a bow before, but he supposed it was not so out of the ordinary.

<<“Would you want a bow?”>> He asked her, unbothered with the abrupt switch to their native tongue. Kyrios had made it clear he did not understand them (or he was a very good actor) and the wolf felt more comfortable discussing trade business in relative secrecy. It didn't strike him as rude, though others had told him it was.

Ukiuk looked over at him. <<“If they are well made, we would be wise to gain one.”>>

<<“Can you shoot?”>>

<<“Yes. A bow will benefit us.”>>

<<“Hm,”>> he hummed. The wolf turned back to Kyrios. “You find a blanket you like. If she likes the bow, we make a deal.”
Kyrios had never been terribly adventurous, and thus had never truly wandered too far from home. At the very least, he preferred familiar climates, and the idea of needing additional furs to keep himself (and his horse!) warm was unappealing. Food, water, and shelter as base needs were enough to keep him busy, and he had never sought to add to that burden by going too far north. But neither had he gone too far south, either; if there was anything worse than needing something extra to keep warm, it was not being able to shed enough fur to keep cool.

As a luxury item though, he could certainly appreciate that furs were nice to have in the same way that organ meats were nice to have. They were delicacies to him because they were difficult to preserve, but while any sort of meat would surely sustain him, if he had his pick of them, he would always go for a heart or a liver. Any coarse deer hide would keep the snow off his shoulders and he could survive a good time in the cold with just the hide he was born with, but if he could have the nice, thick black coat of a bear? Why not?

The hybrid ran his fingers through it again obediently and grinned. "This one would do nicely, if you're willing to let it go."

Then, turning back to his own things, Kyrios pulled out several bows and lay them side by side a distance from the fire. Most were sinew-backed bows with a pair of flatbows among them. He had been experimenting with the latter designs after finding them strangely nice to shoot with, despite their uncommon shape.

"Feel free to try any of them," he told the shewolf, pulling out a quiver of arrows as well. It was lucky that the shelter they'd chosen was roomy and cavernous. "These," he said, gesturing to the first cluster of bows, "I've been refining for a long time. They're very flexible, so you can shoot with more power." Each of the sinew-backed bows had a slightly different curve. "These," he continued, gesturing to the flatbows, "Are more experimental, but you might be surprised at how well they perform. I was." His tail waved as he explained, unable to hide his genuine pride.
The bear pelt was larger and more uncommon. Black bears were nervous, flighty creatures, but young ones were stupid and often got too close to easy food. That had been the story with that one whose pelt Kyrios now held.

Catskill thought it was a bad trade, in truth. He was within his rights to point this out and demand more, but Kyrios had proven a good traveling companion. They had not needed him, but his information and guidance had proven valuable. It would be bad manners to dismiss such behavior without compensation.

Ukiuk picked up two bows, both of different makes. She stepped aside to shoot – a process she repeated with both of the weapons as she became used to them. Catskill watched her at first, but grew bored with the process and settled closer to the fire. He smoked and made used of pieces of meat to lure LaVern back towards the fire, at which point he grabbed him again. Though still wound up, the stoat put up less of a battle as Catskill restrained him in-hand.

After a while, the she-wolf returned.

“These are good,” she praised honestly. There was a curious, interested expression on her face. “I have not seen this type before,” Ukiuk admitted, lifting the flatbow. “It is powerful.”

Catskill snorted. His companion's expression cooled in an instant.

“Then we have a deal, eh?” The wolf said. He nodded towards the bearskin. “I hope it keeps you warm.”

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