[P] when reason fails, the devil helps
Backdated to early February.
Despite what Jethro said, Marlowe didn't expect to see Kyrios Lykoi ever again. 

He recalled Vicira's brother in a vague, abstract way. The young man had been obnoxious and known to play tricks, but was otherwise forgetful. This wasn't entirely his fault – there were plenty of black spaces in Marlowe's memory, especially the months after Campion had broken his leg and Gustavo took him south. Though he had not died, some sort of spiritual death had occurred.

At least, this was how Marlowe phrased the event now. He had seen heaven with his own eyes, and endured dark jungles and stormy seas, only to once again come back here.

If hell was repetition, it explained his magnetic draw to the place. Inferni was gone, and hadn't been his real home anyway. The Cartel had been violent, but small, and he did not see its self-appointed leaders bowing to his whims. Even leaving had seen them caught up with his past. If what had happened in Erie had been avoided, Jethro might have agreed to go somewhere else – but the fire had scared him. Worse still, his sister's return only solidified the younger Lykoi's unwillingness to leave.

Marlowe couldn't survive alone. He was too old to manage without a partner, and too many enemies.

A week after Jethro brought up seeing his uncle, Kyrios finally showed his face. Marlowe had realized this when he had returned from an early trip to the hot springs and spotted the strange horse. They had a few hours left before opening, and Marlowe could smell food cooking. This too alerted him to their guest, though he smelled the man once he got inside. Marlowe's fur was still damp and stunk of sulfur and his own smoky musk.

He went looking for their guest directly, not bothering to dry himself further or delay in their reunion.
The whole question here is: am I a monster, or a victim myself?
He did not like to plan very far into the future as a matter of practicality, but Kyrios often still liked to pretend that there was some path he was following, and some direction to where he was going. And so he did not like that he'd found himself again at what felt like a dead end, some place from which he had no clear path forward.

Being in the old schoolhouse made him restless in a way he did not have words for, and he didn't know what there was to do about it besides leave. But when he did, when he retrieved his horse from the corral and returned again to the mountains for the night, what direction did that leave him in the morning? This was all that remained of what he'd left behind, a dying memory named after a bad omen. There was nothing else to chase after.

After wandering awkwardly through each of the rooms and spending far too long trying to think of what they all used to contain, Kyrios found himself in the largest room in the back, which had once been a warehouse full of spare furniture. He vaguely remembered using it as a hiding place as a child; the long shadows cast by unused tables and upturned chairs made it extra difficult to locate a rambunctious pup unwilling to sit for lessons.

The room had been cleaned up now. There seemed to be a stage on one end of the room and a serving bar on the other. A door opened at the front of the tavern, but the hybrid did not look to see who it was immediately, figuring that most likely, it was not someone he knew. The heavy footsteps and sudden smell of sulfur turned his head, however, and Kyrios drew his ears back instinctively, frowning.

For a few breaths, Marlowe just beyond the doorway and lingered. The tables were bare and the space quiet now, but with their collection of bottles at one end and all the other trimmings and décor, its purpose was apparent even when still. 

He had not planned what to say, nor had he ever really stopped to examine the sort of feelings dredged up by this connection to a time he recalled poorly. His right leg began to ache, but he ignored the sensation. It was a phantom pain, like it had been ever since Campion broke the bone, and present so often that Marlowe had trained himself to ignore such warnings. Rain was coming, his bones might have said, or some other change beneath the surface of his skin he could not understand. The older he got, the harder it was to overlook these warnings.

He knew age was creeping up on him. All the gray hair on his head and face was giving it away.

Kyrios had always had white hair, though. Even when he was young, his hair had been that color – accented here and there by streaks of red and gray like a bannerman's colors. Marlowe might not have recognized him in passing, but Jethro's description matched with his own limited memory. 

“You did come back,” Marlowe said, as if he had not believed his former compatriot would show his face. Inferni had been gone for years, and those who had remained chose their allegiances elsewhere, even among their enemies. Things had been difficult all over, and it had hardened the Clan's survivors. Maybe that was why all these ghosts had begun showing themselves.

The coyote moved a few feet further into the room, brazen in his approach despite being unarmed.

The whole question here is: am I a monster, or a victim myself?
As clanmates, they had never been proper strangers. Kyrios could not remember the last conversation he'd had with Marlowe, but it was likely that any friendliness they'd had between them had always been sarcastic and out of diplomacy.

The lighter-colored hybrid had been dismissive and arrogant then, and his cousin (or second cousin, or some such) had never struck him as being particularly impressive in any avenue. That had been all the more reason he'd had to dislike him outright, when Vicira got close to him, and when Vesper grew to trust him. Kyrios had always kept his jealousy well-hidden beneath his reliable veneer of pompousness, but a man betraying the trust of the two women he held in highest regard was not something he would soon forget, even if the details had become faded to him with time.

And even if he had betrayed those women himself, just the same. (They never trusted him in the same way, so it was different, wasn't it?)

His (defensive) self-satisfied vanity bubbled close to the surface when Marlowe showed his face, greying with age, some old limp evident in his gait and his stance. Kyrios remained unscarred, unmarred, and had scraped through his journeys without any visible injuries; the streaks of white he'd been born with hid signs of age well, and he kept his face trimmed and neat, sharp and alert. The other man was older, if he recalled right, but only just.

"So did you, apparently," he said, voice flat, frown still in place. "Coming back" seemed like a distracting turn of phrase though. This wasn't Inferni. He hadn't come back to anything except a hollow husk, now inhabited by mostly-strangers. Marlowe hadn't come back to anything but the same.

"Would you have bothered, if Inferni were still here?" But then, if Inferni had never fallen, would Jethro have fallen in with this man? What else still tied Marlowe to this place?
Some people had all the luck.

This was a dismissive thought, and one which minimized Marlowe's own hand in his misfortune. He had never been an easy person to get along with – as boys, he and Lokr had butted heads. In Scintilla, his fellow soldiers had raised arms against him. Inferni had not been able to recognize his understanding of the greater good.

All of the people he had touched had family and peers who cared about them. Marlowe didn't think about the ripples made in his wake. He didn't think much about other people at all.

His scarred muzzle curled back in a smile meant to be all mockery. Age and smoking had done damage to his teeth, which were yellowing and starting to look dull.

“I thought it would be here,” he answered simply. The coyote lifted his right hand and held up his fingers. There were long, deep scars higher up on his forearm. In some places, the old color was still apparent – but it had been a long time and most of the tattoo had fallen out. More damaging (and damning) had been the bite mark, which had effectively ruined the old bird motif.  “I came back three summers ago, and it had been gone when I got here,” Marlowe said. This amount of time felt important to him. He intended to use it as ammunition, and when he lowered his hand, did just that.

“Where the fuck have you been, huh?”
The whole question here is: am I a monster, or a victim myself?
"Oh, did you think to return to Inferni then?"

There was the barest hint of mocking in his voice. Vesper would have never allowed it, and he thought it doubtful that Vicira would have ruled against their mother on this, even if they'd disagreed on nearly everything else. (Though would Vicira have wrested power from Vesper if they had survived better their last war? Or if Inferni still existed across the mountains, would Marlowe have thought to look there?)

"I don't see why it should matter to you where I've been," Kyrios said evenly. Marlowe had never cared about anything, by his estimate. Not anything important, or he wouldn't endanger others so often and so recklessly.

He supposed that Jethro might have told him that Kyrios had disappeared after Salsola razed their home. Maybe Jethro believed (knew) that this constituted betrayal and abandonment, and if his nephew had accused him of it, Kyrios would have accepted that. But Marlowe held no moral high ground, and the lighter colored hybrid could only feel a dull self-righteousness in response to his words.

"I don't care where you've been," he added, matter-of-factly. "I don't even care that you're here. You've got no where else to be, huh?"

Kyrios didn't either, but he could fake it in a pinch and convince himself of it too, in his dreams, sometimes.
He was right, of course – Vesper never would have allowed Marlowe de le Poer to rejoin the clan. She had been the Aquila when he left, but she was undoubtedly old now. Dead, probably.

Would she have fought him?

She hadn't when they saw her in the north. If he had been alone, and on foot, she might have. The rotten old bitch was held together by spite. Going down fighting would be a more fitting end than the quiet and undoubtedly lonely ending she had met.

Kyrios, like most of their family, fled. The responsibility they had to the clan had never been enough to keep them tied down when things got hard. It was easy for Marlowe, removed from this choice, to judge those who had failed in his stead. His vision of Inferni was skewed by the stories of his ancestors greatness and the vicious, xenophobic upbringing that had warned him against the dangers of his own blood, and halfbreeds like the last great Aquila. 

Compromise was the only way to survive. He had bent to the will of God, defied the Devil, and lived.

His purpose had to be truly great.

The coyote's expression betrayed shock – as if he could not fathom anyone speaking to him the way Kyrios did – but soon became a toothy sneer.

“You think you know shit about shit, huh?” Marlowe's voice stayed very even despite the aggressive look on his face. “You and your whole self-righteous fucking family. I put work in here,” he took another step forward. “This was my goddamn home, I got a right to be here. You think there's something better out there? You wouldn't believe the things I've seen,” he pressed on. Kyrios, undoubtedly, would only treat him like a liar.

If Vesper hadn't have ruined everything, his lie would have won them the war.

Marlowe's face smoothed.

“I heard your sister ran off,” he went on. “Right after she fucked things up for everyone else. Not that that's a big fucking surprise.”
The whole question here is: am I a monster, or a victim myself?
Self-righteous was exactly the sort of word Kyrios would use to describe Marlowe, but he found that most with strong convictions were that way. Everyone was always so sure that everything was about them, especially those that claimed some great purpose, some great meaning to their dreadful existences. Wasn't it only the self-righteous that accused others of such?

Kyrios curled his lips to match his cousin's sneer, though his teeth were cleaner and more even. He, at least, had always known that he wasn't important. His vanity was not tied to any delusion of grandeur, and it kept him honest.

Had his family been self-righteous? He'd seen no proof of that. If they'd had any claimed purpose, it was only to serve their clan. He didn't think Vesper had ever wanted the broken crown. It only had been Myrika's failure that she'd taken it. If his scholarly mother had managed a little longer, it may have been that Vicira inherited outright. And if Vicira had been self-righteous, then she'd learned it from Marlowe. His sister had once been quiet and shy and without the bitterness of her later years.

And of course, Myrika had never wanted the crown either. She never admitted this to Kyrios, but he had understood it all the same. It was Marlowe's father's who had abandoned it to her. Kyrios had just reviewed the history book, after all. His family had inherited all the responsibility that Marlowe's hadn't had the integrity to shoulder.

"I don't give a shit about what you've seen," Kyrios said, easily and dismissively. He stood his ground, and though his hackles rose, it was Marlowe's foul breath made him want to step back more than anything else. "You think seeing shit makes you better? Self-righteous? You're just describing about yourself. You've got "a right" to be here?" He laughed. "Mark up the territory if you want to talk big, but you'll leave the moment anyone else wants to move in.

"What do you care what Vicira did? You just need someone else to have failed harder than you to make yourself feel better, is that it?"
A normal person might have listened to Kyrios and realized there was truth in his words. Marlowe's ego did not allow him to hear reason.

Instead, he heard and saw what he wanted to. This man was just like all the rest – someone who had benefited from the hard work Marlowe's family had put into the Clan and turned tail when the going got tough. A tactical retreat was only possible when the people leading knew what they were doing. Vicira had made the best choice she could have, but it had been a costly one. The fact that the war had been lost was a greater effect of Inferni's slow decline.

Had it been the wolf blood or the break from the line of Lykoi that damned them?

Marlowe narrowed his eyes. If Kyrios was not here as a guest, and if Marlowe did not have reason to maintain the peace, beating that smugness out of the pale-haired hybrid would have been too easy.

“My plan wouldn't have failed,” he insisted quietly. He sounded like he really believed this. “If we had won that war, things would have been different.”

Maybe they would have. Perhaps nothing would have changed. There was always the possibility that the wolves might have seen the coyotes as a real threat and banded together to bring them to ruin, the way the Boreas faction had tried.

“Why did you come back? You lookin' for someone?” Marlowe asked. Everyone else had been seeking family, but he didn't think that had been what drew Kyrios to return to the Clan's old territory.
The whole question here is: am I a monster, or a victim myself?
He could see the violence in the other man's eyes. He'd seen it before. When it was too hard to bear the truth, they lashed out to silence those who dared say it out loud. In this way they could go on pretending that they mattered and that they were right. The desperation to cling to their fantasy was always very clear in those eyes.

Kyrios had been accused before of being lesser, somehow, because he too easily accepted harsh verbal lashings and only faced them with his usual, infuriating smile. The negative truths rolled over him because he'd always embraced his own failings; he held them close so they couldn't hurt him, even as they kept him from pursuing anything meaningful. Distantly, he could recognise that this was probably not much better. His own ego still existed, somewhere.

That his cousin hadn't yet struck him was a surprise, honestly.

Marlowe seemed to him like a madman, though, with the desperation of one. Kyrios didn't know what war he was talking about. Inferni had seen many, and maybe Marlowe had lurked through the rest, even after his exile. With the excuse that his contributions would likely be meaningless, Kyrios had never helped as much as he should have. Maybe things would have been different, if he'd been attentive enough to catch Marlowe in the act earlier. That guilt was no one's business but his own though. The past was far away and long ago.

"That's not your business, is it?" Kyrios sneered. He turned and started to walk away, then laughed again. "You only want to know so you can tell me I'll fail, so you have some other reason to feel better about yourself, hm? Must be hard for you here, surrounded by kids who haven't fucked up as much as you."
In truth, Marlowe's memory of the war – and of everything else – was distorted. He had been neck deep in addiction then, spurred by his unholy alliance with Campion. The wolf had led him into dark, terrible places that were not worth recalling. After their falling out, after Campion had broken his leg, it had been the injury and his own mind's desperate need to forget that skewed his vision. Though he did remember, it wasn't the truth.

It was easy to imagine he had been righteous, because he had thought his plan correct. One great, final battle between two enemies was what they all wanted. It would have been perfect. Marlowe, sole Bellator throughout the conflict, had led the Infernians as their commander, while their stupid, useless Aquila tried to use pathetic, unreasonable means like diplomacy, negotiation, and compromise.

All those old enemies – wolves, dogs, coyotes who turned their back on their kind and kin – only talked in violence.

Marlowe spoke this language very well. Sometimes it felt like the only way to make other people understand him.

He reached out for Kyrios' shoulder, and when the white-haired man turned, punched him in the face.

After that, everything became noise.
The whole question here is: am I a monster, or a victim myself?
He had been accused before, too, of being a glutton for punishment, but all he could see in violence was others' fear, and he had none of his own. Maybe that was his ego, after all. Maybe he would finally earn a real scar.

Kyrios fell against an empty table, which slid sideways with his weight and struck the wall with a heavy slam. His face stung and he could already feel the bruises forming near the sharp bone of his cheek where the other man's knuckles had cracked against him. His vision swam for a moment. He braced himself against the groaning table, unaccustomed to the abuse. The pain already felt far away and irrelevant, though he could feel it sharply when he bared his teeth in a snarling sneer.

"That make you feel better?" he crowed. There were spots in his vision, but he ignored them and straightened up. He was taller than Marlowe, though the darker hybrid was almost certainly stronger. The muscles in his upper body were compact and dense, but Kyrios had never been a brawler. "That's all you can do anymore to make yourself feel better, huh? Because I'm right and you just desperately need someone to be worse off than you."

The spots cleared and he narrowed his sharp blue eyes against his cousin's gold. If Marlowe moved to strike him again, he could probably dodge, but he saw no benefit to lashing out himself. He didn't want to touch the dirty mongrel, even if it was to punch him.
His sucker-punch connected and bowled Kyrios into a nearby table. The sensation of the blow ran through his hand and all the way up into his arm. It felt solid. It felt good even. Marlowe thought it the most strongly-worded message he could send.

Kyrios wasn't a soldier. He wasn't like Marlowe, or like people who lived lives dictated by violence. If he had been worse – damaged like the Shark – maybe he would have understood.

Marlowe showed his teeth.

“That's your problem,” he explained slowly. “You don't know when to shut the fuck up. No one ever taught you.”

The only way to learn was to be hit. Scintilla had reinforced this idea long before his first firefight. To live with enemies on all side was to be prepared for pain. His allies had tried to kill him long before he came to Inferni, as if they had instinctively sensed there was something different enough within Marlowe to make him feel wrong. The devil, even.

If he was predestined for wicked, Marlowe would not have gone through all those efforts to help people too stupid to recognize he knew what was best. God or the Spirit or whoever would have stopped him. An arrow would have gone into his heart. One of the many wars or great catastrophes would have killed him. The jungle hadn't killed him, and the islands hadn't killed him. He had come all the way back here and lost everything all over again.

The anger felt familiar. Arrogant, self-styled people like Kyrios always made him angry.

Marlowe was right about some things. This time, when he lunged for his cousin, Kyrios avoided the blow entirely. This was not true for Marlowe, who collided with the table hard enough to scrape against the wall and leave a mark.
The whole question here is: am I a monster, or a victim myself?
The commotion, by that point, was far from unnoticed. Jethro had put away the book in their communal sleeping quarters and gone out to see if he could find Cook, but the fresh tracks told him the old man had gone off on his morning walk. Adina was undoubtedly with him, Jethro realized soon enough. Upset at this revelation, he made his way back to the schoolhouse and found it in turmoil.

Flea was the first sign – the moment Jethro opened up the door the tomcat bolted out between his legs. He shot off like a rocket and plunged into the grass before turning abruptly and charging off towards the treeline, spooking several noisy songbirds in the process.

Startled by this, the coyote stared after his ginger cat until he heard the second, louder squeal from deeper within the building. Though the smell of sulfur lingered in the air, he recognized at once the more familiar musky, smoky scent among it.

“Oh shit,” he swore, and rushed down the hallway.

By that point, the fight seemed to have died down – Marlowe was bristling near a table and Kyrios was nearly at the door.

“What happened?” Jethro asked dumbly. Aside from the two men, the room seemed empty and otherwise undisturbed.
The only way to find true happiness is to risk being completely cut open.
Character Wiki | La Estrella Roja | Player Wiki
It was true enough. No one had ever taught him when to shut up. Kyrios had always spoken his mind when he felt like it, though this was rare enough. He kept his tongue still most of the time, but it was for his own convenience, not out of any consideration for others' feelings.

In this instance, of course he knew that provoking Marlowe would have a certain outcome, but it was vindication. The other man communicated in a obvious way, and every punch was mere admittance that Kyrios had been right all along.

"You weren't taught well enough either," he spat as his cousin collided with the table. Marlowe had battle scars, but he hadn't learned anything from them. Maybe they were the same in the end -- self-assured and arrogant and sure of their own truths. It was a reviling thought.

His eyes were hard when Jethro appeared at the entrance of the large room. "I've outlasted my welcome, I suppose," Kyrios said plainly.

He squeezed skillfully past the younger male and turned down the dark hall. "He hasn't changed at all," he added. "If he saved your life, it was only to benefit himself. He'll betray you if it's ever convenient." He was at the other end of the corridor in the next moment and slid through the open door without another word.

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