[P] we learn so little from peace
#1
wc: 521
At night, it was hard to imagine being anywhere but the endless, wintry darkness in which they found themselves. The clear sky did no favors, for the moon could not be seen among the stars. They seemed alone in an equally lonely place, one which might have been any forest in the world.

Both men – though Lotan did not know exactly what Pazuzu was thinking – were oft drawn back into memories of other places and other times. There were plenty of what-ifs left for Lotan now. He had thought himself capable of keeping up with Tiamat, but she was leagues ahead of him now. The distance between them had become exponential despite the close bond they shared. How could it not, when she had chosen this path of vengeance all alone? Prophecy might have foretold this, but Lotan did not know what the Bedouins had convinced his sister of.

Blood, perhaps, was all that bound them now.

As twins who had shared the same sacred space, Lotan and Tiamat had come into the world almost together. He knew in his heart that she was a piece of him he could not afford to lose.

That was what had driven him then, and now, to find her.

In the desert there had been war and further bloodshed. When they had gone to Onuba, it had been much the same – though things were more complex there, with the way the people had convinced themselves as to matters of lineage and rights. Onuba had been corrupt long before their mother left it, escaping a wounded place already starting to fester. Their intention in returning in her place had never been to undo everything, but their actions had been forced. Something so rotten didn't deserve to exist.

Similar thoughts must have driven her back here. There was no enemy to stand against for Krokar, but that was never what this was about. It was personal, a matter of kin and ego that would not be satisfied until...

Until she found victory or death, he supposed.

The little fire crackled merrily despite the cold wind and colder night. Pazuzu tended to a steaming pot of tea that was still too hot to drink. He was well bundled up against the frost, but had the over sized hood he usually wore low around his neck. As age caught up to him, so too did the patchy white that was spreading across his face. The motion of his long, delicate looking fingers was refined as his hands carefully poured the steaming tea into wooden bowls they had carried with them for ages now.

A long time ago, so long ago that Lotan did not remember exactly when, Pazuzu had told him the truth about who he was. Lotan didn't believe in gods the way other people did. He wasn't sure he believed Pazuzu a deity reincarnate, but the coyjackal had shown his capabilities and his unusually favorable fortune time and time again. What greater sign of godhood might be expected? Miracles did not happen simply because someone wished for them.

All magic had a cost.
#2
It was getting harder to remember Onuba. When she closed her eyes to sleep, she tried to retrace her steps through the hallways of their estate and all the little paths between the buildings and the bridges over the canals. She tried to recall the way to the secret shrine, although it was a secret no longer.

She thought the bad things might fade away too, but these she remembered the clearest; a silly argument she’d had with her brother Morholt in the hall, escalating until their parents came to separate them.

Her mother had brought her to her room, like she did so many times before, and sat her on the bed. There she began to run a comb through the tangles of her hair until her sniffles and tears had all subsided.

Serafina suddenly recalled the warmth of the Onuban nights, how the scent of the garden would sometimes come in through the window on the back of a salty breeze.

“Holt won’t understand me, Mama. How can someone so callous be my brother?” She had complained, although now Serafina would’ve given the world to see her grim brother’s face again.

She didn't know what face her mother was making, but the sound of her voice had been soft and patient. “You know, when I was your age, I could not stand to be in the same room as my sister.”

Serafina recalled her confusion at the time, turning to look at her mother, "Aren't you and auntie the very best of friends?"

Semini had tittered and tapped her shoulder, prompting Serafina to turn back around.

“Well, yes, now we are, but it wasn’t always like that. Your grandmother—“ 

“Abue?”

“Yes. She would...well, she thought it was important that Akantha and I learn to be independent and trust our own judgments. But for us, this meant that we never trusted each other."

Semini had smiled, wistful. “We had to go to the other side of the ocean just to find each other again. To think of all we missed, all we could have done together. I realized I had been living my life without my very best friend, and I had been much sadder for it.” She shook her head.

“Ever since, I have always taught my children to cherish one another. Tiamat and Lotan, Calrian and Malik, and now you and Siolene and Morholt. Your siblings are your soul mates. They have come into this world to learn with you, grow with you, to share in all of life’s joys and heartaches. You won’t always see eye to eye, but you must believe in each other.”

“Well. I’m still mad at Holt, if that’s what you’re getting at.” She huffed.

“Still?”  Semini laughed. “Do you think he’s trying to be mean?” 

“Yes!” Her shoulders sank with a sigh. “No.”

“I think your brother sometimes struggles to express his honest feelings. Like your father.” 

Serafina had giggled at the look her mother made.

“If there’s any wisdom I can give to you Sera, it’s to look with your heart. Life will be full of illusions, but your heart will always know the way.”


***

They had argued.

It began as all disagreements did, sparked by something as small and insignificant as where to sit down. This was enough to ignite the kindling they’d unwittingly made out of every annoyance and reckless incident, and soon enough the argument had raged like a fire.

Tercero had stormed off into the cold, and Serafina was left to trail after him once she finished weeping.

It was a cold and moonless night, and remorsefully, she thought it would’ve been warmer with company. A fire too would have been nice, if Tercero had gotten to it before they’d started up again about directions and missed chances. How was she to know that he wanted to go north to the Realm, to this New Caledonia, when he’d never said a word of it?

It was hard to know when a person had reached their limit, especially one as prone to silent brooding as Tercero. Serafina had believed they were doing well finding their way towards this Roja place, even if they had to take a circuitous route on the other side of the mountains.

More than ever, Serafina wished that she had a magical compass in her heart like the one her mother mentioned. Either she’d been born without one entirely, or she was defective and couldn’t read what it said; either way, her “tracking” felt an awful lot like wandering, and soon enough nothing looked familiar. Not the way forward, not the way back, not anywhere except the sky.

The sky that was empty of all signs except the tiniest sliver of cloud—smoke, really, now that she looked at it.

Wiping away the remnants of icy self-pity from her cheeks, the young Amaranthe began her trek towards the camp site.

It wasn’t as far as she’d believed. Soon enough the trees were aglow with the warm light, and the fragrant smell of boiled leaf and flower beckoned her to hasten. Finally she came upon them, stumbling out from the confines of the forest wide-eyed like a newborn deer.

There was an older man swaddled in a coat, a cup of too-hot tea in his hands, but it was the young giant who she stared at open-mouthed, the ghost of a breath quivering around her lips.

He had a shock of snowy white hair, cut short around his wolfish ears, and the unmistakable color of his mother’s eyes.


Their mother’s eyes.

Serafina needed no other evidence of what she knew in her heart, which now beat so loudly in her ears she thought the whole world would wake up.

"Lotan?”
(---) | NPCs: None
omg sorry for the giant post. I wrote most of this during Sosu times, hahaha, but the relevant part is after the divider!
#3
The snow helped to hide her, as did the fire – but he heard the stranger coming and was already preparing for the unexpected. They had seen a few travelers thus far, but none who could tell him about Tiamat. Her trail had disappeared early into his quest, and the winter provided clues only when fortune favored them. It seemed, of late, that there was little of this.

Violence had not found them either, but his sister had come to make war.

His hand was not far from the long handle of the weapon hidden beneath their supplies. Choosing to bring out the weapon risked bringing down all sorts of consequence, but delay could be costly. Lotan was stalled from his action when the young woman's voice called his name.

To his surprise, it was Pazuzu who rose first. The jackal was on his feet in one motion, the long folds of his poncho falling quickly and hiding what he wore beneath. Lotan did not need to see the blade to know it was there, but a stranger might not even notice it beneath the fur-lined garment the Lykoi wore. His sharp-eyed expression was stern and steely, and though his stance was relaxed, Lotan did not move his own hand away from the long hammer's handle.

“Hold,”  he said. Pazuzu's voice was lower than his slight size suggested. “Name yourself before you come any closer.” 
#4
Her smiled wavered at the jackal's strict command, which had stopped her dead in her tracks, and she was struck with the sudden thought: what if she was wrong?

The first lesson she'd learned about the sea was to never turn her back to it. The waves of reality came crashing around her, and she felt caught off guard like the first time she'd ever been toppled over by the returning tide. What did she think would happen, breaking into the camp site of strangers and accusing familial ties to the first person to resemble her brother?

Oh, Tercero would have had some words if he were around.

"I'm Serafina..." She turned to face Lotan and looked long at his white hair, his bright eyes. He was as big as the stories, but certainly not the wicked beast that Onubans so loved to paint him as; his pragmatic dress left no question of his civility, and she was convinced that there was kindness in his eyes and not just because she desperately wanted it to be there. She felt the doubts abate just long enough to get the second half of her name out. "Amaranthe." 

She took a half step closer. "You are Lotan Amaranthe, aren't you? My older brother?"

He wasn't the brother she'd been looking for, if he was her brother at all, but perhaps he was the one she needed to find.
(---) | NPCs: None
<3
#5
For a breath, everything was still. Lotan did not know if the girl was lying or not, but she spoke his name – and her own – so clearly that he doubted this was a trick. As serendipitous as this seemed, he realized Pazuzu did not move or seem to relax at first.

“Yes, that's my name,” the big wolfdog announced, breaking the spell. He saw Pazuzu's ears turn back and imagined his mentor might be cross, but the jackal stepped back towards the fire.

“Giving it so freely hasn't always been for the best,” he reminded his companion. Used to his mysterious airs and attitude, Lotan dismissed any worry of supernatural danger. If this girl was here to fool them, she would have felt far more wicked – and right now he saw only raw, desperate hope in her face.

Lotan found his feet. He towered over Pazuzu and the young woman, whom had since closed the distance between herself and their camp. She had a dark face and warm fur, but her eyes were a bright blue that was unmistakably familiar. He remembered the boys his mother had given birth to shortly before he left home for the last time and realized this girl was younger still.

Her clothing was foreign looking, and betrayed Serafina like her accent.

“You're from Onuba,” Lotan stated plainly.

Pazuzu was watching their new guest carefully now. Their time in that place had been full of strife, and though order had been restored, too many unknowns – about this girl, and what had brought her here – remained. 
#6
Yes, he confirmed. He was Lotan, her long lost brother.

After Isabel, she'd doubted everything she knew about herself and the whole world. If her heart was always right, how could she have loved the wrong person? She didn't know who to trust or where to turn, and it was why they ended up sailing to another world. But there was still hope in these woods. Even if it was a simple affirmation, it had affirmed another piece of Serafina that she thought to be lost for good.

"That's what Tercero says, too. Not to tell anyone." She said to the jackal, who she did not know by name but felt as if she knew who he might be. Her siblings hadn't come to Onuba alone—it was said they came with witches, mystics, mythical and esoteric beings of the world and all enemies of the Lantern.

Onubans loved nothing more than to embellish the truth.

"I am," she said to her brother, chancing another few steps closer. "But I'm not going back."

She looked at Pazuzu, resolute. "Never."

She shook her head, chasing away the thought. "I can't believe I found you. I heard so many stories, of you and Tiamat and Krokar." She blinked, and touched at her tangled braid when she realized that Lotan didn't know her at all.

She'd grown up feeling like she missed everything. Lene and Holt never seemed to feel it, as if a big exciting wind had whisked everyone up except for her.

"I always wondered where you went, after everything that happened. But you were here all along!"
(---) | NPCs: None
<3
#7
The unfamiliar name made Pazuzu's eyes flick to Lotan, who understood that what they did not know was still a factor that could not be ignored. She might have been sent here by enemies to lure them out, or be an unwilling pawn in a bigger game. Onuba had always been like that – trying to force its people into performing without informing them of what their roles truly meant.

Tiamat had almost been caught in the undertow, but she was more volatile and dangerous than the courts had realized.

That was why Lotan was so desperate to find her, before things spiraled out of control.

He was convinced of the girl – his younger sister's – honesty easily enough. The wolfdog thought himself a good judge of character. If Serafina was lying, she was masterful at it. Had this been the case, of course, they would discover the truth soon enough. He and Pazuzu could defend themselves against most ambush.

A gentle smile spread across his face. “We haven't been here,” he admitted. Fate, it seemed, was compelled to draw blood to blood. It was bittersweet that his search for one sister had revealed another.

Lotan didn't mention his twin. With Tiamat's bloody purpose driving her, the fewer people who knew of her return, the better.

“Sit down,” he gestured towards the fire, and to the hide he had laid out for himself. A third set of eyes had manifested from within a bundle of furs, and crooned a throaty noise. Lotan's smile only broadened. “It's all right,” he said aloud, though to the macaque or the young woman seemed uncertain.

“This is a far way from Onuba,” Pazuzu said. The gray jackal had produced a third small cup from among his collection (there was a set of four, all made by the same hands), which told Lotan he did not mean to chase the girl from their camp. “I'd like to know why you left, Serafina Amaranthe, and about your friend Tercero. Where is he?”
 
#8
The way they spoke was different. They provided answers in the loosest sense, but these shed no light, only deepening the mysterious image she had long held of her older siblings.

Serafina came to sit when offered, both grateful to finally find warmth and a little apprehensive of what would next unfold. She didn’t think she was in danger, but it occurred to her that there was so much she didn’t know. She rubbed the chill off her arms and tried not to feel unnerved by it all.

Thankfully, an unfamiliar sound diverted her attention. Her wolfish ears wiggled towards the bundle. When two eyes and a flat, soft looking muzzle appeared, Serafina couldn’t help but squeak a delighted noise. “Hello there,” She whispered to the creature, wanting nothing more than to pet its odd roundish head. “Who might you be?” If she’d had any doubts before about her brother, they were completely extinguished now.

She heard Pazuzu shuffling across the fire, and despite her curiosity, she respectfully refrained from looking in his direction. It was only when he spoke again that she peered over and took in his slender visage.

“He’s lost.” She looked down at her hands, which had begun to fold and unfold in her lap. “I’m so worried about him. He wanted to go north to New Caledonia, and I should have just agreed. He can’t survive out there.” Neither could she, but Serafina knew that she would turn feral if that was what it took to survive. Tercero was stubbornly committed to his systems, his laws, his clothes. He would sooner die a civil man than run four-legged through the snow. She bowed her head and covered her face in her hands.

“Tercero Robles is his name. We left Onuba...fled Onuba together. We didn’t have any other choice.” She peered up at her brother, “And we came here because I knew that Calrian and Malik were around, somewhere. If I’d known you were too, I would have looked for you.”
#9
Encouraged by the girl's soft voice and patient hands, Artoo emerged from his hiding place. Though the monkey was able to live in thick forests like this one, the Canadian cold was capable of dipping to far greater lows than any endured in even the highest reaches of the Atlas mountains. The little coat he wore – a pale cream color leather lined with thick with pale fur– was to ensure that he survived the outdoors. It was hard to get food, but Lotan knew where to break fallen logs or lift old stones and discover insects even in the depths of winter. “That's Artoo,” Lotan explained.

Pazuzu frowned at the mention of Serafina's lost boy, especially once his family was revealed. The courtly folk from Onuba were oddities: caught up in their self-righteous behavior, they often lacked the skills needed to endure country like this. A fancy sword might win a duel, but how well could it bring down a tree? If one never learned of hunger, what would they do when it came?

Though the packs and the Luperci here were developing like their foreign kin, the wild still ruled North America.

Lotan believed Serafina understood her companion's isolation could be a death sentence. He would not be the first man to freeze to death alone. What he didn't entirely grasp was whatever it was that had forced the pair of them – she looked little older than a yearling – to run. When they had left Onuba, it had seemed as if there might finally be a true and just peace.

They had to be patient. That was what Pazuzu, moving his hands and fingers in subtle ways, told Lotan.

He took a breath. Artoo crooned again, and Lotan pulled one of the blankets free from the pile behind him, careful to cover the handle of his long hammer in the process. The wolfdog draped the fur over Serafina's shoulders. How long had she been wandering alone out there? Why hadn't they brought more supplies, if they knew they would be traveling in winter?

If she was his mother's daughter, and if her father was who he suspected it might be, Lotan imagined they must have failed her in some way.

Perhaps that was why she was here.

“You said you had to flee – you and your friend,” Lotan amended. He stepped closer to Pazuzu and took one of the steaming cups the jackal lifted towards his hands. Large as he was, Lotan was graceful in his delivery. “Careful, it's still hot,” he warned his little sister. She looked small and different from Tiamat, even if their eyes were similar.

Once the steaming cup had been safely put down, Lotan went to gather his own. “It will help us if you can tell us what made you leave,” he said. “After that, we can talk about finding your friend and the boys.”
#10
Taken by the little monkey, Serafina found herself struggling to keep on task. "It’s nice to meet you, Artoo." She said, almost jumping in surprise when Lotan laid a fur blanket around her shoulders. She beamed at him, already warm with gratitude when he handed her the steaming cup.

"Right, yes," she said of his inquiry, nodding. "Yes. Right." Her ears folded flat. With each moment leading so quickly to the next, she realized that she hadn't even figured out how to frame the events to herself.

Would Lotan judge her harshly if she told him? Would he confirm her deepest worries about herself? Seeing her brother and his companion look at her so expectantly, Serafina knew there was no way around it.

"Tercero's brother owed a great deal to the Moreno family." She looked at her reflection in the cup, finding it easier to talk to the water than the Light of the flame. "Terc says he didn't know about it until it was bad, and that he was trying to help."

Serafina found herself straining at these reluctant memories in herself, like prying open a locked chest. On the ship to Portland they had spoken very little, uncertain of what the crew would do if they learned of their business. It was only once they had arrived that they'd finally begun to assess what had happened.

"He was hurt when I found him. I didn't know everything then, but even if I did, I couldn't just leave him like that. And then I..." Looking to buy a moment, she took a sip of the tea.

She missed home.

"I...I told someone I trusted. I wouldn’t have told anyone, but I thought she could help us. I thought she would help us." Wanting to appear stronger than she felt, she rubbed at her watery eyes in what she hoped was an inconspicuous way. She knew now that if she'd gone to her siblings, or parents, or anyone else, she would be safe in her home instead of traipsing around the unknown. She would be finishing the first leg of her apprenticeship, or serving as a guinea pig for Lene's work, or trying to convince Holt to let her read his journal.

But she'd gone to Isabel.

"She came back with guards. For us. I know there are so many things I could have done differently. I wish I could do it all over, but I panicked. If they'd taken us, I swear that there is nothing our families could have done to save us."

She brought the blanket closer around her shivering shoulders. Tercero had been adamant: he wouldn’t go back to Moreno lands. It was worse than the rumors, he had said.

She and Tercero had fought about what to do. Cut off at every turn, the ships had been their last and then their only option.

She remembered desperately breaking into her own family's workshop by the wharf and looting what they could, including the map her parents had made together.

Realizing that she'd done the same thing again — trusted willingly and without discretion — her eyes went wide. "Why...? You're not going to send me back, are you?"
(---) | NPCs: None
#11
“Of course not,” Pazuzu said before Lotan could get a word in edgewise. “You are a free woman, Serafina Amaranthe – we are not in the business of taking that from others.”

No, if history had anything to say about that it was liberation alone which drove them. This anarchists dream of life was suited for people who answered to no higher authority than themselves, and it was what Lotan feared would get Tiamat killed.

They were radicals in this way, he supposed. How much blood had they shed to remove the shackles of others? How many people had died in the pursuit of their ideals?

Lotan knew better than to equate these things.

There were plenty of gaps in her story, but from what he knew of Onuba, it seemed likely that the old ways had not left their mother's homeland entirely. Revolution alone could not undo generations of corruption and the foundations of a society.

They had not saved Onuba, just like they had not saved the people in Erie or the great, endless desert.

“It takes a very loyal friend to risk so much,” Lotan added. He offered the girl a gentle smile as he sat. Artoo climbed into his lap. “And quite a bit of bravery to attempt to do so on your own.”

“Even if it was a foolhardy decision,” the silvery jackal amended.

“Why do you think the boys are here?” Lotan asked. He had not seen his younger brothers since they were very small, and had – incorrectly – assumed they left with Semini when she crossed the ocean.
#12
"Thank you," she said to the silvery jackal, grateful even if there was nothing to be grateful for.

She was reminded of her size when Lotan settled beside her. He was larger than anyone she'd ever seen before, and when she looked up at him, part of her was convinced he'd stolen his hair from the moon and stars.

The words loyalty, bravery, and foolhardy hit her in different ways. Had she been a loyal friend? Not to Isabel, who made it very clear to Serafina that she had betrayed her trust by harboring a criminal. It was this loyalty which had led her to Isabel in the first place, and that bravery which left her and Tercero stranded in the woods. The only word she felt was earned in all aspects was foolhardy, because she hadn't thought far ahead in any of her actions.

She wanted to groan and tuck into herself, but aware of her company, she tucked into her tea instead.

"Mom said they stayed behind. We thought they would be in Portland, but they weren't, so we moved on to see if they were in Krokar." She looked to Pazuzu, and then to her tea, which she'd almost finished. "I...I'm realizing that maybe I just wanted that to be true. That they are here somewhere, and that we'd find them if we looked hard enough."

Her ears folded down as she seemed to reflect on herself. She shook her head. "I'm just happy I found you. And happy to meet you," She looked to Pazuzu, whose name she still did not know, and gave him a friendly wag.

"What you're doing out here, anyway?"
(---) | NPCs:
ah! I forgot to reply here <3
#13
Lotan did not know Malik and Calrian well enough to guess if their decision to stay in Portland had been a wise one. They were young men who, perhaps, had recognized that their mother did not need them as much as she once had. It was hard for boys to grapple with the change that came when independence spread before them, unknown and unexplored.

The fact they had (hopefully) stayed together meant something to Lotan.

His smile remained even when his eyes turned strange and steely.

“I'm looking for someone too,” he admitted. “But if the powers have reason to bring you to us, then we shall do what we can to ensure you find your way.”

“I'd like to hear what stories they say about us in your homeland,” Pazuzu interrupted. He had not objected to Lotan's offer, which told the wolfdog his mentor saw reason to agree to it. Given their hunt for Tiamat seemed an impossible task, Lotan suspected that any distraction from this would be a welcome reprieve. They had chased her halfway across the world and back again – and every place they had gone been marked by disaster, as if plagued by a curse.

Pazuzu had once told Lotan he believed this to be among them. He had said it not in an abstract way, but as if he truly thought there to be a physical malady within their collective. Lotan knew that the healer had been speaking of his sister. In his youth he would have throttled anyone for daring to step out of line and cast such ill-intent on Tiamat, but after all he had done and seen, he wasn't so sure anymore.

Even if she was cursed, he would not leave her to endure such a fate alone.
#14
The powers. Serafina looked out to the dark sky beyond their tiny camp as she thought on this, as if the stars could draw a map to the complex feelings these words stirred in her.

It was incredible to have found her brother, in the middle of nowhere, right in her hour of need. Could the Moreno family have been right after all, about the Lantern and his light? She didn't want to approach the mystery for the profound sadness she felt in the futility of chasing answers. Imbuing too much with meaning gave her too much hope, and she was still nursing the wounds from the last terrible disappointments.

She knew that he might not want to say who he was looking for since he hadn't already, but Serafina remained too curious all the same. "Maybe we can look for them together." She said. She wanted to reach out to him, this brother of hers that felt more myth than man even now as they sat close together.

There was a palpable relief when Pazuzu spoke, and Serafina smiled, her ears flicking forward. "Well," she tapped her fingers on the empty cup as she thought. "There are good stories, and there are bad stories. I don't know which one you'd like to hear, but..." She grinned, and shrugged the fur up around her shoulders. "I guess we have time now!"
(---) | NPCs: None
I figure we can end here or your next post! Up to you <3
#15
The men listened.

It was a story woven with bits of truth and plenty of extravagant additions. What had happened in Onuba had only been a part of the story, but because Serafina had come from that land, her tale centered around that brief moment in time. There was plenty of flare and fun to the way she spoke, animating these characterizations of real people based upon the impressions they left behind.

Along the way, Serafina realized Pazuzu's name. He seemed pleased to have made her solve this mystery, or so it seemed to Lotan. The jackal had never been the sort of man to provide easy answers. There was more to him than his appearance suggested, and Lotan knew that part of his mystique came from such unknown factors.
That knife under his clothes was a killing weapon.

Long before Lotan's parents had even met, Pazuzu had been born under the shadow of violence and death. When they had gone across the ocean, it had been like traveling to a place between worlds.

In some of the stories Serafina told, Tiamat and her company were liberators. They had come and brought justice to Onuba by exposing the corruption which threatened every Luperci that called the land home. The bad versions painted them as ruthless barbarians, led by a woman who had tricked the court and used her familial connection to slaughter innocents. In both versions, Lotan heard himself called many things. He was always there, waiting in the shadows to emerge and enforce his sister's deeds. A loyal knight or a dark lord – the latter of which Lotan laughed at, and repeated in his father's tongue – who wrought destruction on those who stood in their way.
Lotan thought this was a simplification, but he didn't correct his little sister who, once given more to drink and something to eat, talked and talked as if she hadn't spoken to anyone for days. She seemed hungry for company.

Eventually, though, even this appetite seemed sated. Lotan made a space for the girl to lay down and rest, and even allowed her to sneak a little closer to him than he might have liked.

“<That tea will help her rest,>” Pazuzu said, once again speaking Arabic. Serafina had fallen asleep.

“<She seemed tired.>”

“<It is cold here,>” the coyjackal complained. Despite this, he rose to his feet. Lotan made as if to move and Pazuzu held out a hand. “<No, stay with her.>”

The wolfdog held his gaze for a breath before nodding. It was the most logical choice – if there was an ambush waiting for them, Lotan would be better equipped to defend the camp alone.

Pazuzu didn't find any unwanted followers or assassins waiting out in the dark, but both men were seasoned adventurers and had made plenty of enemies along the road. The fact that they had yet to run into this boded well, but the truth of things was that blood had already been shed. Lotan's sisters had set in motion events that, fortuitously, had brought them back here.

Like always, this same force compelled Lotan to answer the call of blood. He had felt it in his bones in the days after Tiamat's disappearance.

If his brothers were here, they would be in danger too.

Before he cleaned the cups, Pazuzu studied the shape the leaves left behind. The things he saw were vague and unhelpful, or so he said. Lotan didn't fully understand the practice, but he had always been slower to pick up magic. He was physical, instinctive.

The men took turns keeping watch and stoking the small fire, and the rest of the night passed without incident.



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