[P] you who are daring, devoted, splendid
Oh, carboniferous fire, wherever did you burn? What trail of woodsmoke, soft and light, drifted hither from yonder shore? What pick of pheasant or turn of fish had been left to roast, spinning upon a spit wreathed in a dancing flame? What vegetables steamed and boiled in their own juices, sizzling into a savory morass? What other scents did he take in, marvelous and faint, that panged his jaw and made phantom drool drop from a fang?

The bestial spirit could only hope to find out, and find out he would as the evening landscape passed him by. His hunger was immeasurable, insurmountable that day; he craved nothing but fullness. Such a thing was beyond his being, but that didn't stop him from trying, yearning, searching. In the year since his coalescence, the only thing he could describe his "birth" as, he'd daydreamed of eating. He knew not what in life he had gorged upon for pleasure, but it seemed any flesh called to his earthly cravings. Even the scent of rotting canine, faint and distant as it was, could make his stomach churn with need. He couldn't help but wonder if he'd been a cannibal in his past life, and if such had led to his unremembered demise.

The dark forest was quiet as the spirit walked about. He was unseen, unheard, and the woodland held its breath in trepidation. All the fauna of the wood had gone to hide, silent as they sensed a predator among the trees. A faint, chilling wind blew over the landscape, tinged with the smell of fetid salt and old smoke. It wasn't enough to eclipse the faraway aroma, but it trailed after the ghost like tangled seaweed. Though he left no pawprints and made no disturbance, it gave something else for someone to track. Who would follow this ephemeral scent of the being's? Who was bold enough, with the sun going down and the shadows thick and blanketing, to try and seek out his presence? No common creature, whether Luperci or a lesser beast, would think a ghost was passing through the Commune of the Salmon's woods. This was not an area believed to have a haunt.
It was a half-hearted attempt; and he did not get very far.

Whatever manner of vague bravery had filled him was long lost to the terrifying sounds of the unknown woods and the silence inside his own head that pumped louder at his ears. Like a heartbeat.

He was lost, he thought.

Mithra couldn't decide if this was better or worse.

A small fire burned, and its warmth was there, barely felt, but for the scent of woodsmoke and ashes. Night was coming for him, wrapping the once vibrant forest into shadows and shade. Out here, he was vulnerable, so very afraid and so small for such a big man.

Salt whispered on the breeze, and yet this was not an uncommon thing, not so far from the Loch they lived. Still so, there was little breeze to wave it his way. Coal nose reached to touch the air, twitching in a seeking motion.

One by one, the twilight birds fell silent. The twilight was not yet done.

Slowly, a hand came to his necklace, suspended as it was about his thick neck, and lavished with charms and totems. All of them, made for him by the woman he was trying to find. The journey was one that he remained unprepared for, and unknowing of the way. He had tried. Like he'd always tried, it was never enough.


Echoing scant and faint, his reedy, shaking voice was one sound amongst the silence. Too loud though it was hushed and trembling.

Bowing his head, he stared hard at the fire, feeling the heat in his body set to blazing with fear and doubt, uncertainty, flight.

"Whisper.. h-help me." He asked, muttering into the depth of his clenched fist.

Here he was a sitting duck, for whatever spirits and Gods deemed him a target to focus upon. Hunching his shoulders, he watched the fire, crackling and popping, wavering in the faintness of a chill breeze.

His journey halted as the wind in the forest shifted. The trees breathed, sighed, whispered - a thousand and one more scents mingled with theirs. Pine tar and oak tannins, mouse droppings and birds' nests, wet bone and decaying meat.... It nearly drowned out the beacon of a pot-boiling hearth. A transparent nose lifted to the wind, adimpleating with humid night air.

There was another, and he had a fire. It burned hot and wet, reeking of deadfall. The only thing greater was the stench of the living male's fear. The ghost cocked his head, ears pricking, and made a slow turn away from the path he'd set for himself. Famelicose as he was, there was more than one meal for the dead, and emotion was as delicious as solid flesh. He would've liked the sensation of sinking in his fangs and delicious warmth down his throat, but the food was far. The unseen umbilical cord between him and the Loch-bridge stretched tight. He might not make it any further before it snapped, recoiled, and dragged him back to his rocky anchor. Then what would he do, other than reform a day later when his chance at sustenance was likely long-gone?

It wasn't hard to find the other male, with how pungent he made himself. The beast would be hard to notice, his halatinous and soot-tinged spoor unremarkable. He took a meandering route, weaving or passing through the shadowy foliage at a steady pace. The glow of crackling flames, spitting up sparks when the timber broke at its heart, soon appeared. The ghost sped up a little, his invisible tail wagging, toes dragging through tangles of leaf and twig. His tongue lolled out, and his stomach churned in anticipation.

The moment he hit the edge of the clearing where the male sat, the phantom stopped and recoiled. The air became thick and hard, and was as impassible as a stone wall for the living. The beast growled, even if none could hear him, and tried to circle around. Eyes narrowing, he squinted and stared at the male with a scrutinizing, flinty look. Lip curling in disgust, the ghost realized something was around the male's neck. The fearful creature was whispering a plea.

A ward. Great. Nonetheless, the ghost could work with this. He stepped away into the forest's edge, circling around and behind the male. Disappearing into deep and briar-woven shadows, the creature's claws dug into the earth. Toes disappearing into loam and dead foliage, to where earthworms crawled and voles went to burrow, he concentrated. It was difficult, the tether between him and the Loch flickering and wavering as he did, but power soon came to him. The air behind the living canine cooled in a heartbeat; a slight, chilly wind stirred. A soft, yellowish-white light began to form, starting as an orb that spread out into soft shapes. Mutable and puffy as clouds, they stretched and sharpened from front to back. First there was a long, thick muzzle, then large pointed ears, then a shaggy body, then lengthy legs....


And it ended with eyes of molten gold that flew open, bright and burning. Trails of hazy light began to ripple up from them, as if the pupil-less gaze was aflame. The shifting, shimmering body of the being, made of moonlit mist and sunlit smoke, was now solid. Sticks creaked beneath the weight of its large frame, which was that of a wolfdog's. Ghastly fangs wreathed in faint light appeared as it curled its lips, its growl turning into a snarl. A booming whisper escaped its mouth, echoing like a howl from a great, lonely mountain.

"Who speaks ter me?"
Keeping his eyes to the fire didn't help, not when he could feel the sense of something skittering along his skin. Like the wings of moths fluttering against the moon's light. He had thought he'd know... something more, and now he came to realize how little he did know. Truthfully. Truly. He could not do this alone and maybe now he never would have to again.

Shaking like a leaf, Mithra pulled his light-burned eyes from the crackling fire, searching in vain to the darkness that encroached, helped along by the small clenching of his pupils. They would open up, widen eventually, but would be still be alive to see the forest bathed in silver-touched illumination.

Maybe they were bits on nonsense, trinkets and tipped, worthless, but for the strength of his belief. She was his friend, she'd said. She liked him as he was, she had said. A charm, for courage; one for strength, one for vitality, one for good luck, maybe for protection, one... last of all, for happiness. Fragments of bone and bits of feather, twisted and tied up, Mithra's large hand grasped them all.

If he was destined, protected, to be happy. To be brave and strong, and flush with good luck, purged from the curse of his ill-blood, then, today was not the day he'd die.

For a man to be brave, he'd heard her say, then fear must be here to temper the sting of it.

Coldness at his back, icy fingers down his spine raised his hackles, and bent his bones.

A groan. Mithra whipped about, leaping to his feet in the same moment, his legs all a tangle, and swallowed his own tongue in fear.

"Wahh!" He screamed, it echoed into the uncaring forest. Falling backwards and away, barely avoiding falling into his small fire as he scrambled at the leaf-molded ground, his legs thrusting him away further.

"M-Mithra... I-I'm M-Mithra.." Mithra warbled, his heart lunging in his ears.

The beast stared. It loomed in the four-legged form over a small bush, leaning forward. It hadn't flinched or blinked as Mithra scrambled, examining him in silence. To the male's credit, he didn't run away yipping, nor did he set himself on fire as he scrambled backwards.

He still sounded pathetic as he half-whined his answer. The spirit tilted his head, foggy brow furrowing. His now-uncurled lips pressed together in a thin, dull-shining line. "Mit'-ra?" he repeated. "Nigh t'at's a name I ne'er 'eard before in dees woods. 'Mit'ra'. It doesn't suit ye."

The phantom huffed, a glowing yellow tongue - almost as bright as his sun-fire gaze - flicking out and up. It whisked over one nostril before disappearing back into his jaws. "'Ill ye bea 'avin' sumndin, Mit'ra? 'Tis rude ter ask someone ter come over an' den try ter keep dem away. Ye mind takin' aff whatever ye 'ave 'angin' roun' yer neck?"

He motioned up with his muzzle as if lifting something with it. The spirit's stomach rumbled hard enough that it was almost audible. Mithra's fear, sharp and sweet like spice and pine, would be an easy meal. Despite this, the beast couldn't help but feel sorry for how the other cowed at his presence. The kind of intense terror that the creature sensed was more akin to something that'd come from a puppy. The moments he'd felt it in others he'd scared, or in prey animals he appeared before, had been brief and spiking. Never did it pulse like it did in Mithra, continuous and thundering, even in the most craven the phantom had met. Mithra's posture, scent and answer all screamed one thing to the ghost: Omega. Lower wolf. Beneath him.

He supposed that only made this potential feeding easier, but it didn't stop him from feeling bad about it.
What he saw denied belief, denied comprehension. He'd never actually seen a ghost before. It was though, he could clearly see it, see through it, and he'd also never seen anyone's eyes glowing like that.

"W-what." Didn't suit him? But it was the only name he had? "It-it's my n-name."

Though his heart still leaped and bounded, the ghost came no closer. It had stopped just there, and through the pallid reek of his own fear he could smell salt and seaweed, the sense of the ocean pitching to and fro. He licked his lips, expecting to taste it, but there was nothing other than his own skin, whispers trembling.

The hair upon his neck prickled in warning, and he shook his head back and forth slowly, almost entranced by the movement of the fever-bright tongue,

"I-I didn't..." Eyes darted, but there was nothing and no one else here, no way to escape, though this presence didn't look like it was going to approach any further, that didn't mean that it couldn't.

The bone and feather and shells, they were warm against his chest, the weight of them familiar and comforting, the rasp of horsehair rope a scratchy but enhancing feeling.

"I can't. Whisper m-made it for m-me, she t-told me t-to never t-take it off." They were small words, but they were his, and they were there, and maybe if he had been less afraid he would have put the two together there, and figured it out, but he didn't. His hand wrapped around the myriad charms again, holding them tightly.

"I didn't c-call you. I d-didn't say a-anything, to a-anyone, for h-hours. Since m-morning time. Y-Yesterday." That morning time was a day ago, Mithra had been wandering since then, had stumbled his way here to this piece of land. He could find the way back, he was sure, but not forwards. Not to a place he'd never been, to a pack he didn't know, to find a friend who was gone.

Mithra listened enough to know not to take his baubles off. Well, at least he wasn't a stupid Omega - just an afraid one. The phantom listened, unmoving save for his head, which tilted back into place. His eyes narrowed and his ears twitched as the male refuted the spirit's claim of being summoned.

"Ye asked for 'elp. Ye 'eld yer ward tight an' asked for somethin'. I came. Do ye t'ink Whisper wouldn't gee yer t'ose withoyt makin' sure ye were taken care o'?" the beast said. It was a stretch and a risk to assume, but the phantom was going to guess this "Whisper" was familiar to Mithra. The beast could play along, try and coax more information about Whisper from the male. If he made Mithra believe the spirit acted in Whisper's interests, the Omega might believe him. But could the otherworldly canine pull off that act of manipulation with such hunger in his gut?

Maybe he should've followed the scent of a hot meal after all. Alack, this was no time for second-guessing himself. The phantom's hackles rose a little, tail and ears pointing up in a display of dominance. "Well?" he growled, pulling back his lip again to show the edge of a long tooth. "Ye 'eadin' ter let me in or not? I can leave ye all alone in de dark ter whimper an' cower, if yer want. I don't 'ave ter 'elp Whisper 'elp ye."

He made sure to lock eyes with Mithra as he said this. There was challenge there, and annoyance. The wolf bristled and arched his neck up. Would Mithra dare to meet his gaze, and answer the spirit's domineering posture with a display of his own?

Thoughts ran ragged on their courses. What to think, what to do, what to say.

The darkness around them was so black, it felt as if the night fairly hummed with it; and almost the only light, this wraithful spirit. Scattered dirt had tempered his own fire to a dull ember glow.

Pear-yellow was bright, and shining, darting to and fro only briefly before becoming drawn back to the apparition. If he had been sent by Whisper, then why had he scared Mithra so. Icy fingers, and a mournfully grotesque groan. Hunching over further, Mithra fiddled with his charms, unable to decide for himself.

He was always so stupid. The last to understand, the butt of the joke.

Mithra flinched as the ghost-male snapped, turning his eyes away. He couldn't even stand up to a ghost without folding in on himself. A paper house drenched in water.

"I d-don't know." He muttered.

Livid green eyes flashed behind his own vision, and the snap and bite of her, the sharpness of her teeth against the scruff of his neck, shaking him furiously. Her battering of fist-falls, each one an iron punch, knocking his brain about in his head, bursting the breath from his lungs. Breaking his bones. Splitting his skin. The taste of dripping blood, copper and iron. Loose teeth.

How could he cringe from what lived in his head when it was there for forever? How much could a beaten dog be mishandled before it snapped? Stress weighed down on him, endlessly gnawing fear and hesitation, constant second-guessing, the clawing dread and nauseating feeling that he was still doing everything wrong.

Abruptly, Mithra turned back to the needling ghost, distress taking the place of where a braver man's temper might be,

"And how can you HELP me?!"

His voice, raised in suffering, echoed in the gloom and bounced from the trees.

"How do you make bravery from a coward!?" The poor boy demanded of the ghost, distraught.

Mithra bared his teeth, ears flat against his head, and eyes whaled from fear.

How desperate the male sounded. How disbelieving his words were. Yet, they were all directed at himself, and his voice was as wailing and sharp as a scared pup's. The spirit's fangs fell back under his ephemeral lips, his tail lowering a little. The hackles on the back lowered a fraction as Mithra's second question echoed around them.

The phantom huffed. He gave Mithra a disapproving look. "Oh, hush nigh," he rumbled, voice a bit softer. "If ye were a coward, ye would've pissed yerself an' ran. Ye look a dead t'in' in de face an' bare yisser teet' at it. I canny even touch ye righ' now."

It was time for a more diplomatic approach. The spirit sat down, misty tail curling around his feet like a cloud around a mountain-spire. The only signs of dominance left were his pricked ears and eye contact with Mithra. "Look," he said, "if yer want is ter be brave, I can tell ye a few things. I can even show ye 'ow ter be it. You're gonna 'ave ter let me near yer fire, first, an' den we can talk. De dead don' feel warmt' - I need dat fire. De light an' de 'eat."

The foggy-bodied tilted his head, expectant. "What's it gonna be, Mit'ra?" he asked. "Am I gonna 'ave ter try and find Whisper an' tell 'er this was all fer nothin'? Hm? Are ye 'eadin' ter keep tellin' yerself dat ye're a coward, and enough so that ye're shook by someone's gift to ye? I don' 'ave all night fer an answer, yer know."

His mind was muddled.

Yellow eyes darting, but not for escape. For courage maybe. For something else.

What did he have to loose. Ultimately. What more could a spirit do to him that he hadn't already done to himself.

The words were there behind his teeth, that he'd run from his family, he'd fled the fight and left his blood-kin to die. He clamped down upon them.

I don' 'ave all night fer an answer, yer know.

That was a bitter strike, and it sat cold and cruel in his chest. Time was never had for him, for the others who had everything in the world. He had his nothings and his dreams, his nightmares to hold onto in the night when it was cold and dark.


His hands never hesitated as they removed the necklace of charms. For once, a motion made without reservations or halting motion. Over his head came the horsehair braided band, with its rustling, clinking charms. Down he brought it, to settle in his lap, thick thighs folded.

The fear was exhausting, and he didn't want it anymore. He set that down too, with his necklace, and his head bowed, accepting of whatever fate was to befall him now. Maybe it was tantamount to suicide, in a way, what could a ghost do? anything, and everything, or nothing. Mithra had no way of knowing.

"What do I have t-to do." He said to the ground at his feet.


As Mithra removed his charm, the spirit - and the spirit alone - felt a breeze rush past his face. Warmth flooded up the tips of his toes and his teeth. A sudden, sharp wind blew, enough to stir the branches of a few trees. The phantom's form became an amorphous blur, all shadows and yellowish light as he moved. One step, two step, three steps in, and Mithra's fire sharply flipped to lick the air in his direction.

The wolfdog-creature came up to the flames, opening his maw wide. Pale yellow light poured out of his mouth. He inhaled, the sound strange and gasping. It was a death rattle in reverse, a breath of life coming in rather than the last coming out. He inhaled a few embers from the campfire's flames, and they grew meagre and red-orange. The glow that lit the clearing dimmed, and the fire shrank until it was but a hand's length above its wood.

And now, whereas before he'd been foggy and ever-shifting, the beast looked a great deal more solid. Cloudlike patterns still marbled his body, but he now had the definition of fur and muscle. His ears, nose and legs were long, his paws and build large. Whoever he was in life, he was definitely descended from some kind of working or protection dog. He had the thick-muscled neck and jaws to prove it, which had pulled back from the campfire and snapped shut. White pupils now sat in the center of his sun-fire gaze, which turned to rest upon the submissive Mithra.

"What do I have t-to do."

The spirit hmph-ed at the male's question. One ear twitched, becoming half-formed for a split-second. "First," he said, "ye must tell me why ye're afraid. All de reasons ye can t'ink of, lad, an' nothin' more." He sat down by the weakened fire.

"Dat, dis night, I do 'ave time fer."

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