[AW] lest we unlock the past and release
#1
miramichi watershed, early afternoon, luperci form; open for anyone

Shipwrecked.

It wasn’t an entirely true statement, but one that he felt deeply.  Though a canoe was hardly a ship–and a stolen one at that–the loss of it was something that he hadn’t been too pleased about.  But he was hardly a boatswain and truth be told winter was predictably not the best time to have tried to have a go of traveling waterways.

Either way, he had hit a dead end without knowing it.

All he had left behind him was the nose-end of the canoe pointed skyward, stuck where it had sunk in waters that were swallow and betraying of their depth, and all he had to show for it were wet hands and feet.  It went without saying that he hadn’t the faintest clue where he was, but this was not his first time being lost to the wilderness in a period of what felt like distinct dire straits.  By now, it had become his life story.

A shaky breath punctuated the air as he turned his back on the wreckage and ventured forth; Tarot was directionless but far from disoriented in what that direction was–where it led to, well now that was certainly another story.  The last vestiges of hope he had ever had was long gone, stripped away years ago and slowly maddened by the talk from the other side of the veil as he knew it, even if those voices had been silenced long ago.  Nothing more than whispers, much like the wind caught in bare branches and towering clusters of pines.

He shivered against a bracing breeze, turning his back to it only to find that the narrow tributary he had been on was long gone, and only the woods enveloped him here.

How long had he been walking?  Did it matter?

He determined not, turned into the wind once again, and kept going.

Perhaps he should have stolen the furs that had been in that canoe too.
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#2
The doe leapt over the thicket in an impressive display of agility, clearing the thorny brush with plenty of room to spare. Zaku charged after her, thundering over the obstacle with considerably less grace but apparently determined to make no sacrifices to speed. Kyrios's lower body was rigid and tense, his feet pressed hard against the stirrups to keep him braced in the saddle while his upper body maintained as much fluidity as could be allowed. It was a contradictory practice, to steady one's aim while bounding along roughly on one prey animal seeking another.

He loosed an arrow. It narrowly missed the doe's flank and struck a tree, which he immediately tried to commit to memory so he could retrieve it later. This was already the fifth arrow, but it had been days since he'd seen a deer. The doe charged through the woods, darting this way and that. Kyrios frowned as he notched another arrow. The trees were narrowing quickly and he began losing sight of the deer for long seconds at a time.

Zaku responded to a nudge by picking up speed. In the next moment, he had a direct line of sight to the deer and no trees in the way -- then he spotted a brownish, upright silhouette a few paces ahead of the deer, along the same straight line.

He hesitated.

And then the deer was gone. Sighing dramatically, Kyrios slowed his horse do a trot and then a walk. Following the invisible line, the silhouette became a canine, and Kyrios lowered his bow. "I don't suppose you saw which way that deer went?" It didn't matter, of course. The doe was long gone now, but maybe her direction was one the rest of the herd had gone in, too.
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#3
He zoned out. It was one foot in front of the other, over and over. His aimless wandering should have been a good time to gather his thoughts and prioritize needs, but in that precise moment he lacked the mental fortitude to even begin to do such a thing. How long this went on, he couldn’t have been sure; he only just faintly heard the sound of hoofbeats on the outside of some dissociation, an ear turning to listen.

And then the deer broke across the trail in front of him, running like its life depended on it.

The action startled him, his breath captured in his throat as he recoiled and snapped back to reality as though someone had grabbed him by the scruff. There was something in that primal instinct to give it chase, a kneejerk reaction that was more feral than evolved, but it dismissed itself almost as quickly as it came. There wasn’t any way he could have kept up on two legs and with the way that the deer had bolted by, there was just as likely odds he could have caught up to it had he been on four.

His heart hammered away in his chest as he watched it go.

No matter–there were more hoofbeats coming. Heavier, more determined if not more precise in their movement, and with a turn his gaze caught sight of the horse and rider. A growing pit of despair bloomed in at the bottom of his stomach at the cognitive whiplash, and the pieces fell together as the rider and his steed slowed. Tarot’s eyes looked him over but barely registered it, focusing in on the bow. A hunter. A threat, for all he knew. He knew nothing about these lands or their populace, but the unknown was not so unfamiliar.

He opened his mouth to answer, but found no words. It shut just as quick and soft.

His arm raised instead, a finger pointing in the direction that the deer went.
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#4
"Thanks," he said, but held his horse steady in front of the stranger. His large tawny ears swept forward, uncertain of the other's lack of verbal response.

In his time since Inferni, Kyrios had found it necessary to abandon old habits and small comforts. He'd always been aware of his relative privilege, but it was still a harsh lesson to learn, that he could not be so openly teasing and nosy with strangers. In the wilds, there was no reason for anyone to indulge his curiosity, and so he held his tongue when it felt wiser to. Still, curiosity remained, though it was often was a shallow, defensive sort of curiosity. Better to think on others' problems than confront his own, of course.

The stranger seemed in a daze, eyes unfocused and unwilling to meet his own. There was no submissiveness though, just a dull sort of indifference. Kyrios could not find any pack's scent on him, and it seemed peculiar that a loner would behave with such disregard.

"All right there, love?" he ventured. "You seem a little out of sorts, if you don't mind my saying so."

And if he did mind, well. In this instance, Kyrios had the advantage and could leave very quickly if he needed to.
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#5
Indifference was a good way to put it, though the mental haze itself ebbed away bit by bit; he registered reality keenly, his gaze almost imperceptibly hardening with focus as he took in the stranger again. He should have known his lack of acknowledgment would betray that the deer had taken him off guard. He shouldn’t have been unaware, not in the wilderness. Not with hunters–and strangers–about.

In the depths of midwinter, a wrong step at the right time had cleaved the living tie to the world in better creatures than he. He had heard that tale more times than he cared to count. Sometimes it was a warning, and sometimes it was a threatening promise that one day he too would find himself on the other side of the veil.

His arm dropped back to his side as the stranger spoke–he minded, but there was little he desired to do about it now.

“I’m fine,” he said. Dismissively. Defensively. He was far from fine, damp and cold and evidently locked in a stupor that relented whenever it deigned to do so. Tarot’s gaze left the hunter, this time to favor the way the deer had gone. He did not see it, but it was long gone and obscured through the timberland.

“Your deer’s getting away.”
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#6
The sullen, dismissive attitude was one he had encountered often, both in the clan of his birth and elsewhere, on the road or otherwise. Petulant denial and the refusal to acknowledge problems to improve on them was a common affliction. Kyrios smiled with a knowing weariness.

"It got away when I decided not to shoot because I didn't want to accidentally hit you," he said matter-of-factly. "Knowing its direction is good enough for now, though I think the herd will be out of the area before long."

The hybrid nodded towards the stranger. "You look like you could use a fire though. Are you lost?"

It was not his habit to help others, exactly, but it was an easy distraction that only occasionally came back to trouble him. The deer was already gone, and his pursuit had been sport more than need. And at the very least, Kyrios found that the gloomy moroseness was a difficult demeanor to fake.

He returned his bow to his back and slid down from his horse. "It'll be dangerous if you're still wet when the sun goes down."
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#7
When the sun went down. Right.

There were a number of things that he needed to do before then, all in the name of survival, and the perhaps the ultimate downside to winter was that the sun set far earlier than any other time of the year. The natural wax and wane of the seasons was not lost to him, nor were the dangers. But even he knew that he was ill-equip to handle such things.

Briefly, his gaze went skyward to try and find the sun’s position, but the clouds kept it obscured. Another commonplace feature of winter and all it lacked to offer. Just as well that he didn’t try and figure it out, as the rider’s dismount drew his attention and thoughts back to square one.

“I wasn’t lost until my canoe sank,” he rejoined, though it was a lie. He was lost–in more ways than one.

He sighed.

“Is there a… village… or some sort nearby?” His searching for words only got him so far; he was loathe to consider taking aid but knew it unwise not to. But if this man was a hunter, then it seemed likely he may have had somewhere he went to, whether to trade or drink or otherwise busy himself. Presumably.
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#8
Kyrios couldn't remember if he had behaved similarly once, in the time after he had abandoned his home and his duties. He had lost track of days, his whereabouts, and many details he had decided were unimportant, but mercifully, he had not encountered others for some time, and perhaps he had regained his good facade by then. The stranger seemed more lost emotionally than physically, though Kyrios had doubts about the latter as well; he was not fit to judge, but at least he pretended better, even if that wasn't much to boast about.

"Oh? Where were you heading, then? This is as far east as the river will take you, I think. All of its branches end in lakes. I'm not sure how far west it runs."

He, too, looked skyward a moment in order to reorient himself. The sun was obscured and what lit the forest was a hazy, even sort of light, casting no shadows. But the faint smell of woodsmoke drifted through the cold air, coming from the pack to the northwest.

"Del Cenere is the nearest, on the other side of the mountains, though I think they're more like rocky hills than anything. I suppose you could make it there quickly enough if you ran on all fours, but probably not before dark."

Kyrios looked back to the stranger and tried to determine his trustworthiness. It was doubtful that the attitude was a disguise, but that didn't mean he wouldn't try to rob him. They were similar in size, though Kyrios was a bit taller. The other did not seem to have any items or tools about him, but that still didn't mean he wasn't dangerous. Teeth was all anyone really needed.

"I've camped nearby," he said finally. "You can at least dry off." If you'd like, is what he would've normally added, but Kyrios half-thought the stranger might just let himself freeze to death if left to his own devices. "Do you have a name?"
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#9
It figured that he had been on a dead end path.

The crease that crossed his face as they broached that topic was there and gone in a flash. He should have stayed to the left fork somewhere back, maybe. Maybe it didn’t matter either, eventually he would have run out of waterways to traverse or he would have simply gone sinking somewhere else. Probably better there than when he had been out on more open waters, or worse, five feet off the crude craftsmanship of what might have been a dock.

But the stranger was surprisingly forthcoming in information and as the saying went, when one door closed another opened and opportunity knocked. Yet like any true introvert, Tarot ignored that knocking as he was assessed—there was so much to be gleaned from a wandering eye. It wasn’t the first time the worth of his individual being was weighed against an ever-changing scale, and it wouldn’t be the last.

“Tarot is my name,” he offered as a gesture of good faith.

“And I wasn’t headed anywhere,” he said with a shrug of his shoulders. It felt like a childish response, or at the very least a childish action. Dismissive still, but he went on with some unerring politeness: “But I wouldn’t want to impose on your camp. I’m sure I’ll be fine either way. Not the first night I’ll have spent damp and cold.”

Also wouldn’t be the last.
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#10
"My name is Kyrios, and this is Zaku." He stroked the dark bay horse's nose. "You won't be imposing as long as you don't decide to rob me," Kyrios continued with a grin. "Some company is generally better than none, and if you weren't heading anywhere, then you're in no hurry either."

Taking gentle hold of his mare's bridle, the coywolf turned her around and back towards the direction they'd come. The deer had been an unexpected surprise, really. He'd glimpsed it from the camp and decided in an instant that he felt like going after it. The scent trail back was fresh and easy, and he had arrows to retrieve, anyway.

He looked back to the stranger as he started walking. "Come on then, Tarot. Tell me why you're so sullen."

Being curious and nosy generally got him in trouble, out in the wilds, but if the other male had wanted to attack him, he'd already had ample opportunity, from the moment he dismounted. Zaku would likely buck him if Tarot tried to steal her, so he supposed the worst case for his current scenario was that the other attacked him from behind -- which was much better than usual, really. And Kyrios was curious and nosy, as always. "What in your life has gone so horribly wrong?"
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#11
A chuckle left him at the notion of robbing.  He was many things, but a robber wasn't one of them.  He wouldn't have even known where to begin to pull such a trick and as it were, he wasn't much of a fighter either.  The stranger—Kyrios—could have just as easily gutted him had he wanted to, whether it be with arrows or teeth.

He fell in line behind him and the horse easily enough.  Doubt clouded his mind, almost feeling as though he was betraying whatever creed he had imposed on himself by begrudgingly accepting aid.  Surely there would be a price to pay—there always was.  It seemed that price to pay came in the form of entertainment he supposed, suddenly feeling cold at the notion of a prying curiosity probing into his past.

It was not a story that he wanted to tell and would not, at least not in full.  He could leave out the pieces and parts he wanted to and decided he would, but where to begin?  How to begin?  The debate of telling Kyrios to mind his own crossed him but did not leave his tongue for fear of being turned out and proven wrong that he would last through the cold winter days ahead.

He needed time in every sense.  To survive, to explain.  Perhaps to heal.

"A shorter list would be for me to tell what has gone right."  His attempt at humor, however flat, sullen, and dull his tone could ever be.  A stall tactic, one to buy him time to figure out where to start this little sad tale of his from the point that would sate the need of a story.

"I was separated from my people," he said with a sigh, recollection and uncomfortability to bloom in his tone.  "The earth quaked and a wave that followed swept me from our island.  I suppose I should be fortunate that I survived but..."  His head canted this way and that; why bother hiding that he questioned his luck?  "The wave swept over the whole island.  Everything we worked for gone in an instant.  No reason for us to stay, not that I know where they've disappeared to... or if some survived."

He was unaware how quiet his voice had become, suddenly lacking the desire to go on.  He had wondered if they had met the same fate, or if he had been the only one to get plucked from the coast without so much as a sound.  His gaze shifted out of focus for a moment before reality washed back, the very thing being the only indication to him that he had drifted mindlessly.

"It's not something I care to talk about," he went on.  "I don't know how many days I lost, but the short story is that I woke stranded on the mainland, I recovered, and I moved on."

He didn't expect the man to understand; he suspected it would only raise more questions than it would answer them, and he could only hope what he provided was word enough.
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#12
He had been judgmental in his youth and not particularly shy about it. He had always loved knowing what others were up to, what trouble they got into, what arguments or fights they'd had with clansmembers and family. He'd point out where they'd made the wrong decision and laugh at their faulty thinking, and they would retort that he had no experience and no expertise and that no one had asked his opinion anyway, and he'd laugh and insist that that didn't mean that he was wrong.

It had been an enjoyable ritual for the most part, though occasionally there came troubles and drama that he knew he could not laugh at, but he only knew and only learned after he'd laughed at the wrong thing. He was uncaring, they called him, unable to empathise; callous, perhaps. Maybe it was true. He did have trouble imagining things from others' perspectives. Even when it was explained to him, Kyrios still only knew his own perspective and could only imagine reacting in a way that he would react.

In time, he learned the sympathetic words that people sought for comfort, and he delivered them with an automatic, easy sort of sincerity. He was still a useless layabout, but he wasn't callous anymore.

But sometimes he still didn't understand, and it was difficult to know what words were right if he didn't understand.

There had been no judgment in his voice when he asked for Tarot's circumstances. He'd been sure that whatever they were, they were worth, in some part, being sullen about. Life was full of misery and strife and while Kyrios considered himself very lucky, it easy to nod and offer condolences for lost packs, lost loves, lost family, hurts, and betrayals. And maybe it was only because the other's story was sparse and summarised, and the cream-colored hybrid found that he did not understand.

"You didn't look for your pack?" he asked, surprise clear. "You don't think they looked for you?"

He looked behind him a moment before turning back to their invisible path through the trees. Tarot seemed younger than him, but he still had a few years on him. One uncontrollable disaster hardly seemed like less had gone right than wrong in a lifetime. "Sounds like you'd rather not find them." A statement, not a question.

This, at least, was something Kyrios could relate to on some level.
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#13
He made a small sound, something halfway between a scoff and a gentle sigh. Maybe he hadn't wanted to find them, but it felt far more complex than that. How did you even begin to find something when you hardly knew where you ended up? And it wasn't like he had felt particularly bonded to them in any sort of way either. It had been the opposite, no matter how loyal he imagined himself to Rhaella and her cause.

In the moment that Kyrios glanced at him, he had no reply. In the moments that followed thereafter, he had opened his maw to respond but the words didn't, or wouldn't, come. Even though it had been just a statement, the coywolf couldn't help but add his own negative connotations to it. He couldn't help but presume that he was being judged and it made him feel all the more pathetic for it.

His gaze went downcast, watching more where the placement of his feet were to go next than what would lie ahead of them; his ears flicked back with the inner war that began. Tarot felt his own mouth harden into frown that seemed to deepen by the second. This was exactly why he didn't seek out company so readily, always with the probing and the wondering and the statements that inevitably snowballed into something else.

"You're not wrong," he finally managed out after what was well more than an acceptable pause. His tongue wrapped over a mangled defense past and present. "I think I would have, if I had known how to find them again." But they hadn't come looking for him either, and the thought had only crossed him once.
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#14
Not looking was, perhaps, not as cowardly as simply leaving.

If the land had split apart to separate Kyrios from his clan, he was sure he would have looked for them. Even at Paradox, he would have probably looked for them if they had been separated by some disaster. But instead he had simply left Inferni, taken a horse and run away in the night. It had not been too different at Paradox, either. He had just left. There had been no final glances, no lingering goodbyes. In both cases, he doubted that anyone had really missed him, and certainly no one had gone to look for him. They had been integral to him, but not the other way around.

Maybe it was the same for Tarot. Maybe not. Kyrios did not doubt that others must have had similar experiences to him at some point, but to know for sure, he'd have to expose himself far more than he was willing to. Misery loved company, but he preferred to pretend not to be miserable. He liked to count himself among those lucky enough to succeed in the endeavour, at least occasionally.

As they walked, the cream-colored hybrid stopped at several trees to pry the arrow out of them, tucking each one back among its fellows in his quiver.

"If you came across them again, would you join them?" Kyrios asked.

Maybe that was the true test of loyalty, and maybe this was another test Kyrios would fail. Inferni had been reborn in some way, but he did not want to acknowledge it. Would he join Del Cenere? Maybe Nazario or Boone would convince him, but he didn't think they would. Maybe this was the same for Tarot, too.
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#15
The question that followed rendered him silent once again, this time in contemplation. It had been a long time since he had ran with Aristos and even then, his contributions to that cause had only been beginning when misfortune had followed him once again. There was a distinct part of him that wanted to answer no, if only for the simple fact that he didn’t think he would have had a leg to stand on now if he were to stumble across them again.

But a part of him did want to say yes, if only to improve his own self-image in the eyes of a relative stranger. A stranger, that by all means, he wished he was not sharing this story with. Perhaps a bit nihilistic in nature, he found himself arguing that chances were, he would never see this hunter again. Kyrios would help him, he would get his good karma or whatever it was that was bestowed on the generous, and would go about his life in what Tarot supposed was relative ease.

As for himself?

Tarot imagined that misfortune would always follow him.

And he would continue to destroy himself for it.

“No,” he decided to answer with. “I was not apart of them for long. The time that has passed is now longer than my stay. What happened was… even longer ago now, I suppose. They’ve moved on, I hope, and so will I.” Confidence found him as he spoke; his gaze had lifted to see the path before them and he seized the opportunity to twist attention off himself. He had enough of the past wrapped like chains around his neck.

“What about you, Kyrios? Do you have a home with others, or are you simply a hunter making his way? Your horse seems well cared for, at least, compared to others I’ve seen in the past.” The horse—Zaku, he reminded himself—hadn’t been rode half to death at least. The connection between them was obvious. And though he had changed the subject, he felt his company would see through his attempt to deflect and turn away from the subject at hand.

He continued, adding: “I admit I have never seen someone hunt from horseback.”
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#16
"If your aim is to move on, you'll need to get better at not being so sullen," Kyrios said, looking back at Tarot again with a good-natured laugh. "You'll trick yourself more easily if you smile."

It felt a little risky, giving this advice. After all, it was really the best he had, and it was easy to follow the line to conclude that he was, deep down, as morose as the other. But Kyrios's smiles came easily to him and were as genuine as they had ever been; this had been his fortune and his saving grace. He never sought to and certainly preferred otherwise, but he could tell of his clan's downfall with a smile and a laugh if he needed to. If he needed to tell the truth; that way was better than the alternative.

Tarot alluded to another prior time, before the earthquake and perhaps with another clan. That was probably where the root trouble had been, with the more recent pack and disaster being only the most recent unfortunate event. Such was life.

"Simply a hunter making his way," the cream-colored hybrid answered cheerfully. "I suppose I'm fortunate that hunting has long been my only strength, and you don't need much else to live, huh? The bow and arrows make things a lot cleaner, more efficient, and it's actually quite possible to fell larger prey on my own. The excess meat helps pay for what my horse needs." At least as far as brushes and tack. Of course, she also needed to spend a substantial portion of each day feeding herself, but this was lucky for him too, since it "forced" him into leisure and carving, which gave him other things to trade.
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#17
Hunting being his only strength seemed a bit untrue to Tarot, but perhaps this was a much calmer place than he assumed. He was used to the wilderness being as much as it was enchanting as it was vicious, but he supposed even the most resourceful of beings could make their way if they had the fortitude. Which, admittedly, perhaps he lacked.

He ignored the advice, though it did not entirely fall on deaf on his ears. Smiling not something he had found himself doing—truth be told, he didn’t remember the last time he had smiled. But it wasn’t something that the coywolf intended to be doing any time soon either; keeping the conversation driven to something else was his top priority. The talk of hunting and profession was one that he felt he could master easily.

“Hunting is a wise profession,” he said agreeably. “I’d imagine you must also be decent at bartering if you can care for your horse as well, and still be comfortable. Or the trade hubs must be decent,” though he couldn’t have said to know much of those either. He avoided it all, at times living more primitively than was necessary. But it was how he had been raised—isolated, away from the world and all its problems. And it was always how he imagined how things would be, right up into he had been thrust into it.

Another thought occurred to him.

“So then things must be relatively peaceful here?” he asked.

No point in pretending like he knew it all and if he was going to be washed in hospitality from a stranger then perhaps it was better that he gather what information he could. Winter would prevent him from making too much headway one direction or another, and he didn’t favor trying to take another rickety boat and find his way. If things weren’t congested, he could find his own footing and place to keep himself out of watchful eyes.
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#18
There were a variety of skills that Kyrios was reasonably confident in, though it rarely occurred to him to bring them up. More often, he actively avoided drawing attention to anything he was good at, because that was where expectation was born. In the wilds, there was also the risk of being perceived as a threat.

Some seemed to consider his bow a formidable weapon, and that was true -- from a distance. Taking aim up close was far more difficult and, perhaps contrary to reason, it was harder to shoot with great force from nearby. He supposed this misconception benefited him more than it didn't though. He was perceived as a threat, but not a great threat, and this middle space kept him safe through most encounters.

The lighter colored coywolf laughed. "I don't know about that," he said. "Perhaps it's only fortunate that I don't need to trade often. My horse's needs are mostly material, and most tools will last a long time if they aren't stolen. There are trading towns here and there, and I think more packs nowadays will open up a corner of their territories for the purpose, but I don't much like visiting. Dedicated trading hubs are where everyone wants to take advantage of you. I've had better luck trading in happenstance encounters."

Kyrios paused a moment and considered his surroundings. The last arrow was somewhere nearby for certain. This was where he'd first spotted the deer. Where had that arrow gone? Letting go of his horse, he turned around and reviewed the scene from the direction he'd come from, then walked over to a bush to fish out the spent arrow. "Ah, another broken shaft," he sighed, then snapped off the end of arrow, keeping the arrowhead and the two inches of wood it was bound to, discarding the rest.

"Peaceful? Maybe. Things seem quiet for now, at least. I haven't been in the area for a few years, and a lot has changed." Zaku had right on walking, even without his lead, and Kyrios took a few long strides to catch up with her. "Nearly all of the packs that had been here are gone, so I have to wonder if the remaining ones are to fault for that," he said matter-of-factly.

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