[P] time doesn't heal; you have to do that yourself
Early February. The Waste/La Roja.

He was reminded of an abandoned carcass, only half-eaten, and left to waste on an empty meadow. The meat around its ribs had been torn away, as had the soft organs within. Some dark flesh still clung to the bones, but other parts were bleached white by the sun. The fur in other areas had begun to disintegrate, falling away from sunken skin as the body began to melt away.

Kyrios wasn't sure he would have recognised the Great Village if he hadn't been acutely aware of what it was. Many of the buildings had been dilapidated and uninhabitable, even in his youth, but time had withheld any kindnesses, even still. The schoolhouse where he had been born was the sole sign of life, if only because it still had four walls standing and smelled strongly of strangers. Jethro's scent was also mixed in, but there, too, was a faint scent of pine and salt and mint, Salsola and the sea, disguised conquerors and patrons.

The heart of this carcass was still beating, softly, slowly. The tavern was quiet in the late morning.

The corrals were different than they were, but they were still there, too. Three horses and a cow grazed within on the sparse grass. One of the stallions lifted his head to regard them as they approached, and Kyrios could feel Zaku tense slightly beneath him. "Recognise anyone?" he asked her, laughing a little. "At least one of these fellows was part of your herd before, I think."

The coywolf dismounted a short distance away from the schoolhouse tavern -- La Roja? That was the name Jethro had given -- and waved casually to his nephew, smiling automatically.

As the other approached, Kyrios gathered a quiver-full of arrows and his assortment of bows, hoisting each piece of carefully carved wood over his shoulder to carry them. "Do you keep visitors' horses together with yours?" he asked, turning back to Jethro.

The corral had been in disrepair when they first came back. They had needed it, though – there were wild horses in the area. They didn't come by often, but between the two stallions and mare, spring was certain to bring plenty of conflict. Gaston had been instrumental in this restoration. He was good with his hands and strong. Now that his eyes were getting bad, Jethro wondered how long he'd be able to last as proper muscle.

While the fence no longer butted up to the wall – a decision made to ensure there was a gap between the noise and the horses – it wasn't a long walk from the main entrance. Jethro and his uncle met halfway, and the blonde shook his head in answer to Kyrios' question.

“Not usually. Tobi and Jecimiah have to have their own space. Most people just tie their horses up. Yours is all right,” he added quickly. “I don't think Adrianna's horse will mind, and Mondo probably won't even notice.” The snowy steer was a true gentle giant. He was back to being off-white again now. Once it was warm enough they'd need to bathe all the animals (themselves included) properly.

Jethro turned back towards the building and held the door open to allow his uncle in. “I didn't know when you'd be coming, so I don't know who's around right now. We can use the room up here – there's better light,” he explained. The most easterly corner of the building had been converted into one of their gambling halls. Three tables took up most of the space, with a few rickety looking chairs surrounding each. What had been left behind the night before had long since been removed, and without their chips and cards, the purpose of the space looked might have been for gatherings of any sort.

“I'll go get the book,” Jethro said. “I can get you some water too, if you want any.”
The only way to find true happiness is to risk being completely cut open.
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In general, Kyrios disliked tying up his horse out of sight because he didn't trust any place where that might be commonplace. He could not keep an eye on her when he was in a building, and rope was very easy for an enterprising stranger to cut. There had only been two attempted thefts in the past, both halfway thwarted by the ruckus Zaku made when she realised what was happening, but both had been extremely unpleasant incidents for all involved.

The territories did not seem particularly busy though. Maybe travelers, loners, and packwolves shirking duty showed up in droves in the evening, but for the time being, there did not seem to be much to fear. Still, Kyrios was grateful for use of the corral, because while Zaku accepted easily enough that fences meant that she should stay put for a while, he was confident that she could leap them if danger approached, and that he would be able to find her later.

The bay mare let herself be directed into the corral without protest, but stayed close to the fence furthest from the other animals, as if to signal her disinterest as clearly as possible. One of the stallions started towards her, but Zaku moved away from him at an equal speed. Kyrios grinned and turned away, following Jethro into the familiar building.

"Sure, thanks," he said of the water, deciding that it was probably rude to refuse, especially since he had refused other goods in exchange for his bows. He set down the weapons across one of the tables while Jethro nodded and left.

Having drinks inside still didn't make much sense to him, even if it was only water. Cups and bottles were containers invented by humans, he guessed, but they had been short-faced animals, and it wasn't it obvious that these same things weren't conducive to canine muzzles? He used canteens and waterskins, but felt that their convenience was only just balanced out by their inconvenience. Water poured directly into his mouth always ended up half-wasted on the ground. Often, it really wasn't too much trouble just to find a stream or a lake.

Everything had changed so quickly, but what was it all for?
They had started keeping the water for Cookie – the old dog could certainly make his way down to the stream, but they all liked making things easier for him. Other uses became clear quickly, especially when they had working women and the occasional spill to contend with. Though they had done their best to clean up the place, the building was old. A lot of their repair-work had kept the building standing, but it would need more by summer. Winter and the thaw which was to come would reveal treacherous weaknesses in the roof, certainly.

The mansion had been like that. There were rooms he hadn't been allowed in, and places he was told to avoid. He had mostly listened to this, though was sometimes encouraged (especially by his uncle) to push these boundaries when they weren't outrageously dangerous.

While no longer frigid, the water he returned with was cool to the touch. Jethro carried it in a soft sack, while the small bowl-shaped cups were made of wood. He left these near the bows, where the shade still lingered.

The heavy book he had carried under his arm was soon deposited on the empty table nearest an open window. Wrapped in a piece of thin, smooth-grain leather, the age and scent of it wafted forth when Jethro revealed the book to the light. He had taken care to clean the cover recently, though it was clear wear and tear had affected the tome. These vanilla, oily perfumes lingered and almost hid the traces of smoke that had never really left its pages.
The only way to find true happiness is to risk being completely cut open.
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He couldn't remember the last time he'd been in the schoolhouse, and so he couldn't remember immediately what the room he was in had been for previously, or who had occupied it. Blue eyes swept the room methodically while Jethro was gone. Kyrios suspected that this had been Myrika's study, which meant that the room opposite it had been his parents' bedroom, the room he'd been born in, probably. The woodstove was gone, but some part of him insisted that he could still smell the smoke and feel the comforting warmth. This would have been the room the old book had been written in.

The study had been left alone after Myrika left. Kyrios had already moved to the mansion by then, but he remembered passing by the closed door when he had stopped back by.

He missed his mothers, but it was a distant feeling, like something he only knew he was supposed to feel, but didn't really. Did Salsola pick through their territories after they'd gone, looting whatever remained? Or had they not bothered at all, dismissing their former belongings and memories as not worth the time? And when the strangers came, did they know or care?

It was not hard for him to forget that he was sitting in the schoolhouse. The tables were different. The smell of the wood was, too. Kyrios almost forgot why he'd come. Why had he come?

His ears swept forward and his eyes re-focused when Jethro returned with the book. Part of him still couldn't believe that Myrika hadn't taken it with her, though he supposed there was no reason for her to take the written history of Inferni out of Inferni. Kyrios opened the book carefully to his mother's careful script, awkwardly large at first, before settling into their form and size. He could not help but smile, though he didn't really feel like it.

"You don't have kids, do you?" Kyrios asked suddenly. "Someone for this book to go to?"

Not that that was any sort of guarantee. Family wasn't always reliable. He hadn't been.
There hadn't been much left when they had taken to sleeping in the place. It was better than the frosty garage they had endured the blizzard in, and after several seasons of repair, a good and proper building again. Undoubtedly, other travelers had made use of the space during its period of abandonment. Wildlife too had chewed through soft parts of the wall or drug in leaves and debris to form their own nests.

Since nothing could ever go back without change, Jethro was better able to let his former connections to the land remain ambiguous. He had lived in the Mansion all of his life, and been forcefully evicted by disaster and banished into caves here and then across the mountain.

He didn't feel safe living underground after the earthquakes.

Living in a wooden tinderbox was just as frightening, but at least here he would have a chance to get out alive.

Jethro watched his uncle turn through the stiff, yellowing pages. It gave him a vague sense of pride to know that he had fulfilled in saving a piece of their collective history. Inferni had shattered after the war, but taken much longer to fall apart. There was no way to put these pieces back together when so many remained missing and lost.

The blonde frowned slightly at Kyrios' question. He was immediately defensive, struck by a rush of doubt that slashed through his earlier high like a sharp knife. It was hard to know what his family expected from him. He was old enough to be a father. Should he have found a woman by now, and married her?

“No,” he said, then amended. “Not yet. I haven't...been settled here for that long,” he admitted again. “Can't raise kids on the road, and they aren't allowed in here after dark. I updated the family names, though,” Jethro said. There were more than additions which had needed done, though Kyrios would see the deaths and lost among the Lykoi soon enough for himself.

“I don't know if you remember Dahlia, my cousin, but she's got kids now. Her and Boone got hitched, if you can believe that. He and Nazario and a few others settled up north.”
The only way to find true happiness is to risk being completely cut open.
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In all, the history of Inferni did not take up as many pages as he might have expected. There were blank sections here and there, where perhaps details had been intended to be filled in later, but which never got written.

The description of the earliest days were surreal in many ways, coming from a different era, before houses and horses became commonplace among them. Kyrios had never thought much of his great grandmother (or were there more greats needed in there?), and her exact age had always been a mystery to him, but how strange it must have been to live such a long time, and how lucky it was that Myrika had been able to transcribe her words.

They had been the longest lived of any clan or pack in the land.

They had scratched out their place in the world long before Salsola had ever risen into the picture. They had survived fire and famine and flood and fallen stars. They had survived everything, until they hadn't.

The bitterness bubbled up again, but it was tempered with a long conditioned helplessness. There was nothing he could do.

Like the most recent chapters of history, the sprawling family tree in the second half of the tome had been added to and revised by Jethro's hand. Versace and Antioch were dead. Vicira and Vesper were officially missing, but probably also dead. Cartier was dead. Maeriia had been gone for a very long time. Kyrios was the last of his generation. Many of the other pups that had grown up alongside him, including most of Antioch's siblings, had been gone for as long as Maeriia, and later children as well. What of Basilio's various children?

Not all of them were accounted for in the family tree, but how could they be? Those that disappeared could have had dozens of litters elsewhere, and there would be no way to connect them back to Inferni or the book after a generation of ignorance. Did the deserters tell their children about their old, proud heritage?

Those marked "missing" had no further lines, no new children, no new grandchildren. Eventually, they were marked dead, only because of the time that had passed. If any of them found immortality, they would never know.

Kyrios looked up at Jethro when he answered, smiling vaguely, perhaps sympathetically. "I don't have any kids either," he said lightly. He had never wanted any though. Children were best returned to their parents at the end of the day, and he preferred not to be such a parent. "Women have never been agreeable to me," was his truth and his excuse, though it was probably just as true that he was not very agreeable to women, and that plenty of men had found him distasteful and obnoxious, too. He never tried hard enough.

The older man nodded at the mention of Jethro's various cousins. The family lived on, scattered and in different packs. Would the book pass to one of the second cousins then? Would any of them care to keep such a tome? Why should any of them care about the history of Inferni when they had a different place to call home now?

"Why didn't you join them? In Del Cenere?"
There was a moment where a shadow crossed Jethro's face – the passing look revealed a tired anger there had been tempered by time and his inability to bring about true change. The people who had wronged him had either gotten away with it or passed beyond his reach. Alone, he didn't have the might to stand against such powers. Even with others, there was great risk.

Salsola had burnt down his home. Though Inferni had employed fire in its long and bloody past, Jethro had never realized the true horror of such a force.

He knew now. Having seen it twice over, he understood the dangers of sparking something that would eventually be out of his control.

Jethro hadn't decided what he would do with the book. Adina would inherit it, if she outlived him. If Credence returned, and Adina had not had children, he would assume its ownership. After that, it seemed likely that the artifact would either be lost or forgotten. It was a sad fate for something made with such dedication and maintained for so long.

When it came to the gang, Jethro's reasons felt equally difficult to face. Did he tell his uncle how Vesper had so plainly rejected him, simply because he was traveling with someone she viewed as a traitor? Had it been that easy for her to separate any affection for her grandson in her heart? And what would the others think, especially with him having left once before already?

“It wasn't the right place,” he said. “I wanted to look for Adina and Credence down here anyway. These people needed help too – especially once the blizzard hit. Me and Marlowe did some work with some of their family before too, and everyone here's all right.” A wistful smile crossed his face. “It's nice. Get's loud and rowdy sometimes, but that ain't always bad either.”
The only way to find true happiness is to risk being completely cut open.
Character Wiki | La Estrella Roja | Player Wiki
A sense of belonging was something difficult to pin down.

In hindsight, it was hard for Kyrios to say with any certainty that he had belonged in Inferni. It had been his birthplace and his birthright, but those were not decisions he'd made for himself. The world had many options, and he'd simply chosen not to choose. He had never explored; he had never questioned anything. And when everything fell apart, when he'd been forced to look for something else, he didn't know what to look for. What had it been about Inferni that'd made it Inferni? And what was there left in a world without it?

The conflict in Jethro seemed easy to see, because Kyrios understood it better than he'd ever admit. After all, he had not sought out the Gang either, and if prompted, would have a hundred reasons for why it wasn't "the right place." The younger man's reasons for staying with his Troupe seemed simple and flimsy, but they were still reasons, and that was better than what Kyrios had anywhere.

That the old book seemed destined to reach a dead end was a tragedy, but he had already spent years thinking that it was gone, anyway. Time moved on and didn't care about the past.

Kyrios closed the tome and handed it back to his nephew. "Thanks for letting me take a look," he said genuinely. "I'm glad you have a place to be and people to be with." He smiled, but it was small and perhaps a little tired. "Do you mind if I look around a little? I'm impressed this old place is still standing."
“Yeah, of course,” Jethro affirmed.

He wanted to hold together whatever scraps of Inferni remained. If the memory of a place was what could keep it alive, books had power in them. The word of God was contained in simple language so every man could be saved. Should Inferni ever be capable of reforming, Jethro wanted to ensure that its ancient history was not lost to the ages. This was a matter of pride, and about the only piece of it that really remained. He pulled the old book close to his chest.

They had been here first.

Jethro stood and moved towards the hallway.

“Just leave the last room on the left alone – some of the others are probably still sleeping. The rooms on the other side are where they work, so just knock and see if anyone's around. Otherwise yeah, check it out. We had to fix up a lot when we first got here, but it made it through the winter, knock-on-wood,” he said, and rapped his knuckle against the door frame. A lot of the superstitions Marlowe carried had bled over to his own behaviors and syntax, though Jethro would never admit to taking them seriously.

“Do you want some food?” Jethro asked. The longer he delayed his uncle's departure, the more likely it would be Adina might return. He felt like he wanted her with him for this reunion. “Cook might be up,” he went on. “If you want to eat, I'll make sure we have enough for everyone. His food is always really good, you might like it.”
The only way to find true happiness is to risk being completely cut open.
Character Wiki | La Estrella Roja | Player Wiki
"Sure, I'll have a bite if he's up," he said, unsure whether "Cook" was a name, title, or occupation. Perhaps all three, as it seemed unusual for Jethro to refer to someone by their role.

Kyrios had never acquired a taste for cooked meat, but he could tell sometimes that it was easier and faster to digest and didn't leave him feeling as bloated and uncomfortable if he ate too much too quickly. Maybe it was this suggestion of age catching up with him that kept him away from it more than the taste, though he still disliked many of the extra complexities those playing at civility and prestige added into their routines now. The fashion seemed to be focused around whatever was unnecessary, because those who had time for it were surely more well-off than the rest of them.

But Kyrios was content enough to take the excuse to linger a little longer, too, even if the longer he did, the more he affirmed that no, he didn't belong here either, even if he had been born within these walls. It belonged to other people now. That Jethro was among them was only coincidence, and his being there didn't change anything. The land was not any more or less Inferni than it would've been otherwise.

He drank some of the water he'd been provided, then followed Jethro out the door. "Thanks," he said again, before turning towards the opposite room. "I'll let you know before I go."

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